Lockhart hopeful his Dundela side can turn the corner
Whoever said it is tough at the top clearly didn’t have relegation on their mind... and neither does Darren Lockhart, as he attempts to plot his way through a tricky first season at charge of Dundela.
The dreaded trap door has become a more pressing and more prominent issue for a greater number of Championship Two clubs this season, given that as many as FIVE of them could be relegated in the Northern Ireland Football League’s latest shake-up that will see 12 teams in the second and third tiers of local football from next season.
Yet Lockhart - who admits in his success-laden days as a player at Glentoran, there were a fair share of trials and tribulations too – has his mind firmly on the job at hand, rather than anything that the end of the season may throw in his path.
He told The Park: “I really don’t know anything about what league the club would go into if they were relegated. I am sure that is something the board will look at together, and that is up to what they decide to do. I’m just focussed on winning the next game.
“It’s something you could ask of almost any club in the league this season, and it’s the same at all clubs. They will all be talking about their history, and what it means to stay up. But you have expectations at any club – like when you are at Glentoran, sixth or seventh is never good enough. Personally, I have always just focussed on the next game.
“Of course I don’t want to be the manager who takes the club down to the next division – I know from speaking to Mark (Snodden, former Dundela manager) how hard that was for him when they were relegated last season. But I know if we can win a few games, we can start climbing up the table. I’m sure Jose Mourinho is thinking the same at Chelsea, at the moment.
In any case, if the season were to end right now, Dundela, currently in tenth place, could have a chance of surviving the drop, as the top nine are guaranteed safety, with the tenth team at risk only if one or more teams seeking promotion from other Intermediate divisions win their league.
The Duns have come through a difficult run of four straight defeats, with a draw and a win in their last three games, and despite losing again at the weekend, Lockhart believes they can continue to improve results, while playing the game in what he sees as the right way.
He continued: “You don’t win forever, and you don’t lose forever. You build a winning mentality. But there are several players here from last year, and I did get worried than when you get used to losing, it is a feeling that grips guys. Losing week in, week out, you see the confidence draining, and when that happens, the energy levels drain too.
“I have told them, you make you make your own luck - the harder you work, the greater your rewards. You can see they are buying into it, because their fitness levels are getting better.
“We have been missing quite a few players through injury, and that can be hard when you are constantly coaching players coming in new patterns of play and team shapes. But I am sticking to my principles.”
And while a replenishing squad may bring its challenges to a coach, that is undoubtedly a welcome problem.
Lockhart added: “The players that have been out have been long-term injuries in a lot of cases. It has taken Adam Neill and Matty Burrows up front the last five or six weeks to get properly up to match fitness, but they are both starting to score and look like their old selves again.
“The biggest disappointment for me so far has been (lack of) competition for places. Hopefully that is getting better and if I can get a few players in come January, it will be even better. ”