JON King says the season so far has been a “learning curve” for much of his South Shields squad – and has challenged his players to prove they should be at the club long-term.
Shields travel to Tow Law Town tomorrow sitting 16th in Northern League Division Two.
There have been some bright spots for the Mariners this term, though, with a number of younger players offering hope for the future.
King feels those players will have learned plenty from the experience so far, but believes the club may not see the true benefits of it in the short-term.
He said: “We’ve got a lot of young players in the camp and some hadn’t played in the Northern League before this season, so they’re on a learning curve.
“We’ll probably see the greatest benefits of this experience for them next season.
“There was no secret that this season was going to be difficult, but the lads have got to show to us they want to be here when the bigger things start happening and we’re hopefully back in South Shields.
“Everyone has been given exactly the same chance to prove themselves, and they’ve got until the end of April to show what they can do and show why they should be here long-term. Some of the lads have already done that.”
Shields started the season excellently, and at one stage sat in the top three before falling away.
King, though, feels there have been signs in recent weeks of a return to the early-season standards, and has challenged his players to reach those levels again in the coming months.
He added: “We started the season like a house on fire, but had a tough four or five weeks which knocked our confidence a little bit.
“That confidence has come back again now, and in the new year, we want to try and get back to the standards we set at the start of the season, and get to the upper end of mid-table.
“Slowly but surely, we’re showing signs of getting to the standards we want to be.
“The season so far could have been better, but it has been satisfactory, and now we need to try and push on, starting at Tow Law.
“A new manager has just taken over there and there’s always a danger they could lift their game, but Tow Law is always a tough place to go anyway.”
Aron Burn and Adam Sharp are set to return from injury for Shields in the 3pm kick-off, while Lee Maitland will serve the final match of his suspension.