PAUL Walden has praised his depleted Louth Town side’s spirit after what he said has so far been ‘the hardest season of my managerial career’.
Since taking over for a second spell at Park Avenue in May, boss Walden has overseen a rollercoaster ride in league and cup. Inconsistent league form has been the theme of the season while a thrilling FA Cup run meant White Wolves fans have not been short of excitement this term.
Walden returned to the club after departing in February, with Mick Gray lasting only three months in the hot seat after succeeding him.
“Coming back in the first place was always going to be testing,” he told the Leader. “But the players have stood up to be counted when the pressure has been on and that speaks bundles, they’ve been magnificent.”
Louth sit in 14th in the Baris Northern Counties East League Division One, but Walden is confident his side can use their games in hand to force their way up the table. “The top six is a massive ask from here,” he said. “But I like to put a bit of pressure on the lads from time to time. It would be an amazing achievement with no playing budget.”
After seeing off Gedling Miners Welfare and Holbrook Sports in their first ever FA Cup campaign, Louth bowed out to Northern Premier League side Buxton in the first qualifying round in front of a record Park Avenue crowd.
“The cup run was fantastic,” Walden said. “We put in a great performance against Buxton but it has hampered the league form as it meant so many midweek games. We’ve been playing catch up and it takes its toll, especially on the younger players.”
After a poor run of form saw them lose eight out of nine, Walden’s injury hit squad have lost just one of their last nine outings. The recent return of striker Jamie Rowbotham has offered a real tonic too; the hero of the 2009/10 championship winning season with 38 goals suffered a broken leg last summer but has netted three in his last three games.
“We’ve had some very good performances and have been unlucky at times,” said Walden. “The win at Handsworth when they were flying high was brilliant, but the highlight for me has been the home and away wins over Pontefract who are second. We dominated both games and they really stand out.”
Louth face a Wilkinson Sword Trophy semi-final tie at home to Shirebrook Town on January 24, with the enticing prospect of an all-Lincolnshire final against Grimsby Borough. “We’d be confident in the final if we got through,” said Walden. “Cup finals are always one offs, though we have to see off Shirebrook first. I’d possibly prefer to play Grimsby in the final, as the local rivalry would add something to it and bring a bigger attendance.”
The cup runs are certainly helpful to the club’s coffers though, earlier this month club secretary Rick Hill appealed through the Leader for fresh investment to help the club survive. Walden echoed his sentiments, he said: “We’re trying to get people to come on board as we need fresh blood.
“Louth has a great football club but it is in desperate need of investment if it is to maintain a team at this level.”
He also praised the club’s fans for their unwavering support this season. He added: “I can’t thank the supporters enough; we’ve had 20 or 30 at most away games which is incredible. They’ve been absolutely brilliant.”
Louth travelled to Grimsby Borough on Tuesday for a festive derby, see next week’s Leader for the full report and keep reading through 2012 for full coverage of the second half of the season.