MANAGER Des Lyttle has wrapped up his first season in charge by demanding that Hucknall Town do better — whatever the size of his playing budget.
“People say to me that at least we have survived and at least we still have a club,” Lyttle (pictured) told the Dispatch.
“I say that’s all well and good but my targets and standards are higher than that.
“I expected to achieve a bit more this season. I haven’t achieved what I wanted to achieve.
“I wanted to get into the play-offs, regardless of the budget. It hasn’t happened, therefore I look at that as disappointing.”
Lyttle was appointed two months into a season which, even by Town’s incomparable standards, has been a rollercoaster.
It began with The Yellows contemplating life outside the top three tiers of non-league football for the first time in 14 years.
Ostensibly, it also began with the club reverting to amateur status and unable to pay players.
The money flowed again when a potential takeover by businessman Steve Greaves and former professional player Michael Johnson swept into the club, bringing with them ex-Nottingham Forest defender Lyttle after the defection of Tommy Brookbanks.
But only three months later, Greaves was controversially ousted and by the end of the campaign, Lyttle’s budget for wages had been slashed by about 40%.
Amid all the turbulence, Town somehow continued to flirt with the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League, Division One South promotion play-offs.
But in the end, they had to be content with 11th place and not one sniff of a decent run in the cups.
Lyttle was left to reflect on a record in which he won just ten of his 31 league games in charge and lost 15.
“Had Steve Greaves stayed, it might have been different, you never know,” said Lyttle. “A bigger budget might have helped because we could have attracted better players. But money doesn’t guarantee success.
“There has been a lot of upheaval at the club. Therefore to stay in the promotion frame until about six games to go was not too bad after all we had to put up with.
“But I want to be a winner, regardless of what is going on behind the scenes. I reckon if I had been able to work closely with the boys from day one of pre-season, we could have gone close.”
Lyttle accepted that one of his main problems has been lack of stability. Town used no fewer than 59 players during the course of the season.
“That is an unbelievable figure,” he said. “But at this level, players just come and go.
“We are in a catchment area where there are a lot of clubs and, at present, Hucknall Town are not in a strong position, financially, to get better players.
“Unfortunately, players will shoot across to the other side of Nottingham for just an extra £10.
“It has been a real eye-opener for me how players at this level will just leave clubs, willy-nilly.”
Against this backdrop, Lyttle faces a mountainous task of building a side good enough to compete next season.
He has reiterated his intention to stay with the club — “unless Barcelona come in”! But significantly, he is not contracted and it remains to be seen whether financial restrictions wear him down.
“I have been told it is going to be a difficult season,” Lyttle admitted. “But I am still planning, still preparing.
“I am away for most of May but I will start shaping things when I get back.
“It’s too early to talk about new signings but it will be all about persuading lads to play on a small wage. If we can’t, we will have to go with youngsters.
“It’s all right people giving me names of former players, such as Danny Bacon, who might want to come back. But because of finances, I wouldn’t be able to get them. I wouldn’t even bother Danny with a phone call.
“Yes, I would like two or three experienced players. But experience costs money and the money isn’t there.”
Of the players currently on Town’s books, Lyttle says he would like to keep the likes of Callum Lloyd, Chris Timons, Kieran Walker and Grant Ryan to form the backbone of next season’s team.
And of the promising youngsters who have been given their chance in recent weeks, he says he holds out highest hopes for Tom Crisp and Alex Arnold.
But he is resigned to losing goalkeeper James Lindley, who has been offered better terms at a higher level. And he fears top scorer Ryan will be lured away too.
“I am sure I could turn Grant into a top striker who could play higher one day,” says Lyttle. “But he needs coaching.
“As for James, I have to be realistic. He will probably leave. I haven’t got the financial clout to barter.”
It’s clear Lyttle could face a tricky summer of wheeling and dealing. But he’s clear about the kind of players he will be looking for.
“The main thing I have learned about football at this level is dealing with the mentality of players,” he said.
“You need players who are committed and hungry. That’s why the likes of Grantham and Ilkeston have been so good.
“Yes, they have decent budgets but their players are committed and willing to work.”