Gainsborough Trinity manager Russ Wilcox

Gainsborough Trinity have finished their Northern Premier League in eighth, just behind the much sought-after play-off places.

Manager Russ Wilcox took the reins on September 19, 2023. He stepped back into management after leaving National League North side Farsley Celtic in the summer, where he had succeeded in avoiding relegation twice in succession with the team who had the division’s lowest budget.

The Holy Blues sat in the relegation zone when Wilcox took over, but ended the campaign firmly in the top-half thanks to an incredible post-New Year turnaround.

Speaking to The Linc, he said: “We’ve gone from being a team who couldn’t really score many goals to scoring a lot, and we’ve gone from being a team that is conceding a lot to one that doesn’t concede many.”

“I think in defence, everyone is working so much harder. We defend from the front, as an eleven, and we attack as an eleven. I think when I first came in that was a bit mis-jointed, but the second-half of the season has been absolutely outstanding. Every stat will show there has been huge improvements.”

Gainsborough Trinity vs Radcliffe
Gainsborough came from behind to beat the already-crowned champions Radcliffe on the final day. Credit: Yetunde Adegoke

Gainsborough have lost just four of their 18 games since Boxing Day defeat at Stafford Rangers, helping them steadily climb into the top-half.

Wilcox said: “It’s always challenging when you go into a club that has not had a good start. So, you find yourself looking at the squad, seeing how you can improve things and I think overall it’s gone really well. From being 19th when I came in to where we finished is a great turnaround.

“You still have that tad of disappointment that you’re not that far off the play-offs even though it was seven points, so it was a bridge too far that. But, I think if someone said to me on Boxing Day, at Stafford Rangers, that we would finish 8th, I would have probably had a little chuckle to myself.

“It’s been a big turnaround since then, getting players back fit like Dayle Southwell, adding to the group, bringing in Danny Devine and Declan Howe, who was my first signing. I don’t think it could’ve gone much better.”

Re-signings and recruitment:

So far, Trinity have secured the services of six players for next season: league golden boot winner Declan Howe, former Scotland youth international Fraser Preston, midfielders Bailey Conway and Bobby Johnson, defender Ashley Jackson and hometown-boy Lewis Butroid.

They join Dayle Southwell, whose deal does not expire this summer.

Gainsborough Trinity vs Radcliffe
Gainsborough Trinity finished the season with 63 points. Credit: Yetunde Adegoke.

Wilcox said: “We’ve retained a good core of the group, and we need to add to that. Obviously that’s the hardest bit, I think non-league recruitment is very difficult. You look at location, people have jobs, they need to be not too far away. It makes the pool a lot smaller, because it’s got to fit around people’s jobs.”

The promotion-winning Scunthorpe United player, assistant and manager already has one eye on adding to his squad.

“We’ve got the ball rolling, and we’ve certainly got some targets that we are looking at. The main thing is that we’ve got a good core that has done well for us, they’re all good ages and hungry to do well,” he said.

Adding: “We’ll be using the loan market again, but that will be later. It’s usually July, August time that club’s know who they’re going to let out on loan.”

A season of ups and downs:

After Neal Bishop departed, Wilcox oversaw a steady start to life at The Northolme. Trinity followed up a 4-1 win in his first game at the club with defeat at Basford United, before embarking on a five match unbeaten run.

The Gainsborough gaffer said: “It’s always nice to get that first win when you step into a club, you put your values across, you put your ideas across. But, for players to buy into that, you need results. I think to get a win on the opening one, I know it was Atherton, who ended up getting relegated, but it’s still important to get that first key win.”

Gainsborough Trinity's Declan Howe
Declan Howe’s goals have been important, scoring 26 to secure the NPL golden boot. Credit: Yetunde Adegoke

After a torrid run through December, losing five consecutive games, The Holy Blues turned their season around with New Year’s Day victory over Worksop Town

“I think that Worksop win was huge, followed by Guiseley the following week. I think those two results, after Stafford away, where we were awful to say the least, was huge for everybody. It gave the players that belief that we can defend probably, I think when I came in there wasn’t enough clean sheets, there was too many goals going in,” Wilcox said.

Trinity ended the season by scoring 14 goals in just four games, securing ten points to round-out a campaign that has seen them consolidate their standing in the seventh tier.

A much-needed break:

Wilcox will spend a short period relaxing as much as he can and visiting different parts of the country, before his attention turns back to building towards the 2024/25 season.

He said: “You always need a break, the seasons are long. It’s a different kind of job, it’s nine months solid, working Christmas and New Year. I love the game, and I love the job, but it’s very intense. The emotions of sport are high and low. I can still feel that low of Stafford away, but the highs of backing that up with wins over Worksop and Guiseley. It’s a rollercoaster ride.”

Feature Image Credit: Gainsborough Trinity

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