AFC EMLEY manager Darren Hepworth still has sights firmly fixed on a top-six finish in the Northern Counties East League Division I.
Next on the agenda is Monday’s home clash with in-form Hemsworth at the Welfare Ground, which kicks off at 1pm – hopefully giving Town fans time to watch both games should they wish.
Sixth-place Hemsworth will be favourites, having won five of their last six matches, while Emley have slipped down to 12th and need to get back on track.
Hepworth says there is still everything to play for in the second half of the campaign.
“Going into this campaign we had prepared thoroughly during pre-season and I was quietly confident of at least a top-four place this season,” said the manager.
“This was despite long-term injuries to key players Steve Kenworthy, Antony Leech and, more recently, Marc Townsend.
“Up until our away fixture with Eccleshill at the beginning of October we were very much in the mix and, indeed, we were seconds away from securing a valuable 1-0 win which would have taken us up to fifth.
“Then a bizarre series of events ended up with the game being abandoned and, with it, our goalkeeper suspended until the beginning of January.
“On reflection this appears to have been a pivotal moment in our season. Of course suspensions and injuries are part and parcel of football and I have said before that I don't regard those as excuses for performances and, ultimately, results in the long run.
“So what target am I pinning down as a revised target for the end of this season?
“You may think I’m a tad optimistic but I really, really believe we can achieve top six.”
Hepworth says he is basing his judgment on three factors.
“Firstly we have the players and talent,” he said.
“Going forward we are a potent attacking force, in Scott Holt and David Heagney we have natural goalscorers as proven by their standing in the scoring charts.
“Heggers is still the leading goalscorer in the division (league and cup) and an outstanding talent we are lucky to have.
“Clearly the biggest area for improvement is our defending and cutting out basic errors for which we are being punished. This is my No1 priority in training and in the transfer market. We will find the solution.
“Secondly we do have the desire and belief. We are hurting at the moment and we owe performances and ultimately results.
“I am absolutely convinced fans will see this in our play in a way that has been lacking in recent games.
“Not having a game for three weeks has forced us indoors and the lads have responded very well to some intense sessions.
“Similar to last season, we must take advantage of this break to regroup and refocus. I know these lads and I know they will respond.
“Thirdly, of our last 16 league games only four are away.
“We have to make the Welfare Ground a fortress. It’s a cliche, I know, but there has never been a truer statement in this respect. Sixteen ‘cup finals’ playing for 48 points.
“That’s the way I’m looking at the rest of this season. Only then should we be judged.”