RAMBOTTOM United secretary, Tony Cunningham, reflects on another difficult campaign but hopes for better times ahead...

Where on earth to begin!

Which word do we use? Frustrating, disappointing, poor, disheartening, unexpected, baffling?

I could go on, but the season has not produced the returns that we had hoped for when we kicked off on a sunny afternoon in Wythenshawe last July.

We viewed this first game as an indicator of what we could expect. We had been relegated, and Wythenshawe promoted. So, after being two divisions apart last time round, these two teams would meet on equal terms as we returned to a league we had left 11 years previously.

At half-time, we went in one goal behind. An unlucky deflection off the back of the keeper. Just bad luck really, but, oh boy, would that bad luck follow us round for the rest of the campaign.

A late collapse saw us go down to a dis-spirited 0-4 defeat.

From then on, it’s been a story of inconsistency, injuries and questionable officiating.

Whilst appreciating that every club suffers a number of injuries during a season, I can only shake my head at the number that we have suffered, way above the normal. We’ve had to use seven different goalkeepers, with outfield players going down on a regular basis, preventing a run of unchanged line-ups and the subsequent chance of a successful set of results.

Manager Steve Wilkes has had to dig into his black book of players names throughout the campaign to bring in reinforcements. A lack of a settled squad is hardly the recipe for success.

To be fair, back in August after the Wythenshawe game, we settled down pretty well. Five wins, two draws and just one defeat in the next eight games, that defeat coming away to Mossley in the FA Cup.

After that, however, the inconsistency that has plagued us all season, kicked in.

So how do we sum the season up?

Certainly disappointing overall. We had high hopes of mounting a challenge to return to the NPL, but despite a reasonable start, it never materialised due to our poor mid-season form.

There were highlights. Excellent away wins at Skelmersdale, Irlam and Pilkington. Comprehensive three-pointers at the HWRS against Pilkington, Burscough and Litherland REMYCA.

Overall however, there were some really poor games. Wythenshawe, Prestwich Heys, Charnock Richard, Padiham and Colne away stand out, as do the home games against strugglers Skelmersdale United and Squires Gate.

We enjoyed a run in the FA Vase, and certainly, from an entertainment point of view, supporters cannot moan at the lack of goals. Of the 55 games played, there have been a total of 193 goals, with just the last home game against Bury ending goalless, an average of almost four per game.

The general consensus is that the football played has been more attractive than in the last couple of years, despite the points tally being below expectations.

However, a bonus for the club was the fact that during the season, the Rams enjoyed playing in front of their highest ever away crowd (3,776 at Bury) and a record attendance at the HWRS, with 2,138 attending the reverse fixture against their local rivals.

The general feeling, as we enjoy a well-deserved closed season break is that the club have finally, after much chopping and changing, assembled a talented squad that, with one or two experienced additions, look likely to lead the club into a brighter future.

We have to grind our teeth and accept that 2023-24 was not the best campaign, but look forward in typical football supporters’ style to a much better 2024-25.