EX-SAINT Kevin Gibbens is confident about Blackfield & Langley’s FA Vase prospects – despite recent upheavals at the club.
Gibbens was handed the managerial reins following last month’s departure of Glenn Burnett and, to start with, the job was something of a poisoned chalice.
But the 34-year-old, who made his Saints debut aged 18 and went on to make 12 appearances for his home town club, says stability has now returned Gang Warily and he is optimistic of taking a full squad to Toolstation Western Premier leaders Larkhall Athletic today to gun for a place in the last 16.
Four key players – goalkeeper Steve Mowthorpe, Nathan Lynch, TJ Cuthbertson and Scott Sampson – have followed Burnett out of the door and there has been interest in hotshot Alex Baldacchino.
But Gibbens said: “Alex is injured and is still three or four weeks away. He’s had an ankle problem all season and hasn’t played many games.
“We spoke the other day and at this time he’s not leaving. Fareham have put seven days in but he probably won’t go there.”
With injuries and suspensions also taking their toll, Blackfield travelled to Bemerton on December 28 with just the bare 11 players, including coach Tom Barge, and lost 2-1.
They haven’t played since because of the weather and Gibbens reckons that might be a blessing.
“We’ve got Joe Byrne back now from a dislocated shoulder and, apart from Alex, everyone else is fit,” he said.
“We’ve also signed a few – left-sided player Dan Taylor from Christchurch, plus Dave Ewen and Max Crow who were with us last year. All three are eligible for the Vase and we’re hopeful of making two more signings, so things are looking a lot better than when we only had 11 players.
“It’s always better to have people who want to play for the club than players who are thinking about leaving. As soon as the seven days come in I’d rather they just go.”
With Bath-based Larkhall having dropped just two points all season and boasting an immaculate league record at home, tomorrow’s fourth round proper match will be a huge test.
But Gibbens said: “As sportsmen, we never go anywhere thinking we’re going to lose. We’ll be going to Larkhall to win.
“There were all sorts of problems when Glenn left and I couldn’t have picked a worse time to take over, but a lot’s been sorted out now and my assistant Chris Farrell and (coach) John McFarlane have put a lot of work in.
“The players wanted to know where they stood and everyone’s been assured on that front. I’ve got a squad of 17/18 to choose from which is better than having eight or nine on a Friday night and trying to find more.
“Hopefully we’re over the worst of it and things can settle down.”