IT’S a mark of how far Romsey Town have come this season that they have taken the loss of striker Ryan Long to Sydenhams Premier rivals Verwood comfortably in their stride.

When Long returned to the Bypass Ground club at the end of August, manager Danny Barker described him as “a major, major signing” who would turn Town’s torrid start to the season around.

But Long – scorer of 17 goals in 30 Wessex appearances for Romsey last term – only played one league game before disappearing off the scene, leaving Barker wondering just where the next goal was coming from.

But fast forward four months and the emergence of a new goalscoring hero, Matt Austin, has given the Bypass boys fresh hope of survival.

Four wins and a draw from their last seven league games has hoisted Town off the bottom up to 18th place with Austin scoring four times in the last three games.

Asked about Long’s switch to Verwood, Barker said: “We’ve not seen Ryan for quite a while. I’m sorry to see him go, but I’m pleased to say that we’re finally in a position where we’ve moved on.

“I always said it would take until Christmas to find something that works for us and we’ve got a squad now that I believe is good enough to survive.

“If we can keep this group together next season, with one or two additions I think we’d have a comfortable mid-table side.

“We’ve already played Verwood twice, so Ryan can’t hurt us now. He’s made the decision to go and good luck to him, I wish him all the best.

“We’ve moved on now and I’m sure he’ll go to Verwood and do a good job for them.”

Although Barker is under no illusions about the size of the task still facing Romsey, he is pleased the pressure has shifted elsewhere.

“I know the other teams have got games on us but, as we know, being rock-bottom makes it psychologically hard,” he said.

“The pressure has swung onto (bottom club) Lymington and even (second-to-bottom) New Milton. They’ve both got three games in hand on us, but they’ve still got to go out and win those games which is hard when you’re down there.

“Up to November things couldn’t have got any worse for us, but we’re past those days now and it’s time for someone else to have a go!

“We’re not out of the woods yet, but the lads are feeling confident and we’ve given ourselves a chance.”

Romsey now face two titanic tasks, at title-chasing Blackfield & Langley tomorrow and Moneyfields on Tuesday, but they have at least given themselves some breathing space.

“It was important we banked points prior to going into these games,” said Barker.

“If we could sneak a draw from either of them we’d be delighted. It would set us up nicely for the home game against Horndean next Saturday.”