STEVE Riley fears AFC Totton’s dramatic improvement may have come too late to preserve their Calor Southern Premier status, writes WENDY GEE.

But he would be interested to know how the Stags’ bright, young class of 2013/14 would have coped earlier in the season if they had known then what they know now.

Back in September, Totton’s naïve young bucks were clinically turned over 4-0 in the FA Cup by a streetwise Sholing side playing two tiers below them in the Sydenhams Premier.

The Stags have also suffered at the hands of AFC Portchester in the Hampshire Senior and Russell Cotes cups, but Riley believes it would be a different story now.

Speaking after Tuesday’s 2-1 home win over Burnham, which made it 13 points banked out of the last 21, Riley said: “It would be interesting now with this squad to see how we’d compete at different levels.

“We played Wessex sides at the start of the season and couldn’t get near them, but that certainly wouldn’t be the case now.

“It’s testament to our young lads the way they’ve learned and come on over the months.

“In the last seven games we’ve competed like an established team in this league.

“We’ve come a long way, but maybe a bit too late.

“If we’d had this squad and this experience in October we could have been in the safe zone by now.” In reality Totton are still 13 points away from fourth-to-bottom safety – 14, effectively, taking goal difference into account.

There is, however, the faint possibility that another club could go the way of Hinckley United and drop out of the league, meaning that staying out of the bottom two – which now seems likely – may yet prove the Stags’ salvation.

Totton meet Corby Town home and away over the next five days, starting at the Testwood Stadium tomorrow.

And it appears that it’s the Steelmen who are on the rockiest ground right now with problems piling up.

Corby’s senior players boycotted Wednesday’s home fixture against Poole in protest at their continued non-payment.

A makeshift side crashed 3-0 to the Dolphins – ex-Stag Michael Charles, Marvin Brooks and Steve Devlin (penalty) the scorers. And, with the Northamptonshire club currently in dispute with the borough council over a cut in funding – among other things, there remains a huge question mark over the Steelemen’s future.