BURY Town boss Richard Wilkins believes his Bury Town players have realised what he knew all along – that they can compete towards the top of the Ryman League Premier Division.
The Blues just missed out on promotion after a 2-1 defeat to Suffolk rivals Lowestoft Town in a play-off semi-final at Ram Meadow, but performed admirably to finish third in the league standings.
And with the next campaign now just two months away, there is hope among fans, players and the management that Bury can improve further.
“I think the players learned more than me in the fact they can compete at this level,” said Wilkins. “I’ve been telling them for years they are good enough and I think some can play at the next level as well.
“This season proved Bury Town can compete as a football club both on the field and off it.”
Bury started the season with a marquee signing in former Ipswich and Crystal Palace player James Scowcroft, and by continuing their long unbeaten run from the season before – stretching it to 23 matches before suffering a 3-0 reverse at Canvey Island.
But their four wins from their opening seven Ryman Premier matches came courtesy of a margin of just one goal on each occasion, with the other three being drawn.
“When you go up, you are not quite sure what to expect and we probably started the season slightly apprehensively,” said Wilkins. “We were a bit fortunate and got more points than we deserved.
“That gave us a bit of confidence because we hadn’t been playing to our full potential.
“That start was important and it gave us a good platform to build on – as the season went on, we got better.”
After that loss to Canvey, Bury’s focus turned towards the cup competitions, but the Blues suffered a disappointing exit at the hands of Blue Square Bet South side Staines Town in an FA Cup third qualifying round replay and then crashed out of the FA Trophy at the hands of Ashford Town (Middlesex) in the second qualifying round.
However, the first two rounds of the Suffolk Premier Cup were successfully negotiated and a run of four consecutive league victories – which stretched from November 20 to January 3 because of the inclement weather – kept Bury in the hunt for promotion.
The Blues’ consistency meant they were always there or thereabouts, setting up a top-of-the-table clash at Sutton United on April 9.
However, they stumbled to a 2-1 defeat, effectively handing Sutton the title.
Six days later, their disappointment was tempered somewhat by a 2-0 victory over Needham Market in the Suffolk Premier Cup final at Portman Road thanks to a double strike from top scorer Sam Reed.
But, when Bury returned to league action, their season threatened to implode as losses to Cray and Maidstone left them outside of the play-offs for the first time since the early weeks of the season.
Although back-to-back 1-0 victories, over Lowestoft and Wealdstone, guided them back into the top five for the end of the season, the Blues came unstuck at the hands of their Suffolk rivals.
“The team was out of the top five for about a week and a day of the season,” added Wilkins. “I don’t think we were quite strong enough to go up, but it was a really positive season.
“Winning the Suffolk Premier Cup was nice because the club hadn’t won it for 15 years, but to finish third in the league was great.”
The campaign ended with some cheer for young goalkeeper Nick Pope, who secured a move to Npower League One outfit Charlton Athletic.