Despite the heartbreak of play-off semi-final defeat, Buxton boss Paul Phillips believes his young side can challenge for the title next year if they can mature and learn from the disappointment.
The battling Bucks eventually lost 4-2 at South Shields on Tuesday night after having Tom Dean sent off for a second bookable offence when 2-1 down.
But manager Phillips is excited for the future of the side in next year’s NPL Premier Division campaign.
“I feel sorry for the lads as they are a young team with an average age of about 23 years old. They just have to learn the lesson from it as that’s the only way we will progress,” he said.
“Don’t forget when we took over we were 18th in this league and fighting off relegation. In the space of 12 months we have brought in lads that have represented England or been getting in the Team of the Year and the club is back on a forward foot.
“For me, if we learn from our mistakes and mature on the naivety then this team, with two or three additions, can be challenging for the league next season. I think the young lads are that good.
“We are working behind the scenes now. Obviously we have options on the majority of the players.
“We want to get them all done and dusted so we go into pre-season with a set 16/18 players and go from there.”
Phillips was proud of his side’s display at South Shields, believing only luck was missing on the night as they suffered two concussions and a red card.
“You do need a bit of luck and I thought for 45 minutes we played the perfect game,” he said.
“There was only one team looking like it was going to win the football match, then we lost Brad Roscoe to concussion.
“We knew we’d be up against it second half as they were going to come out and have a right go.
“We conceded two goals and got ourselves back in the game, despite a stupid red card, but then we lost Scott Sephton to another concussion.
“When they were leading 3-2 we threw the kitchen sink at them to be fair. But you do need that bit of luck and unfortunately that luck was for the other side.
“We lost it, but for the first half, and even with 10 men we were still pushing forward and making chances.”
He added: “I am taking nothing away from South Shields. They finished second and are a very good footballing team. I’d be surprised if they don’t now go on and win the play-offs.
“We’ve taken it to the wire and of it wasn’t for these small margins of luck that sometimes you get and sometimes you don’t, then, for me, we would have won.”
Phillips felt there should have been a red card for the home side too.
“A red card always makes a difference for a team that plays possession-based football. If you are playing with 10 men you’ve got to work twice as hard,” he said.
“But we still got ourselves back in the game at 2-2.
“There was a knee-high tackle by South Shields which I thought was a red card for their lad and then Tom is slightly late with his tackle and, having been booked, gets a red card.
“You do need more consistency. The standard of officiating last night was good but key decisions went against us.
“You need strong-minded refereeing, especially with 2,000-odd people there. If it had been a South Shields player I think he’d have given him a talking to, but he got his red card out quicker than John Wayne gets his gun out.”
Buxton had qualified for the play-offs thank to a 2-2 home draw with Warrington last Saturday which saw them pip Gainsborough Trinity to the last spot, though Mark Roberts’ 79th minute equaliser for the visitors had them sweating.
“It was a nervy finish,” admitted Phillips. “It was a funny game as we scored quite early and controlled the majority of the game.
“Then we were behind. The weather was a key element, blowing a gale in your face.
“But when it went to 2-2, if we’d needed anything more the lads could have pushed on and been a bit more forward thinking.
“But when we knew how other results were going we erred on the side of caution as we knew it was job done.
“It was a funny end as Warrington had nothing to play for and we wanted to settle for what we had. It was a professional and mature job.”
Phillips had high praise for Buxton’s growing support for their part in such a good season.
“I just want to thank the fans,” he said.
“Crowds have been up 44 per cent and the lads really appreciate that.
“Without them we’d have been a long way away. I just hope they can stick with us and see what the bigger picture is.”