Paul Cox has laid down the gauntlet to his Kettering Town players as he continues to enjoy the “lovely problem” of selection headaches.
The Poppies have performed well in their last three matches with a 1-1 draw with Farsley Celtic being followed by a 2-0 win at Gloucester City before they turned in an excellent display to share a 1-1 stalemate with much-fancied AFC Fylde at Latimer Park last weekend.
Kettering are back on the road on Saturday as they head to Guiseley, looking to maintain what has been an encouraging start to the new Vanarama National League North season.
Cox admitted his young squad are further ahead than he expected them to be.
But, with plenty of competition for places, he has now challenged those who have the shirts to keep them while others await their opportunity.
And he used the goalkeeper position as a prime example as Jackson Smith made his league debut for the club last weekend and performed well with Rhys Davies, who had started the previous five matches, ruled out through injury.
“For the first time since I have been here, I have got a squad that gives us players on the bench who are capable of coming on and affecting the game,” the Kettering manager said.
“We have had to work really hard with the budget we have got. We have had to beg, borrow and steal.
“But we have got together a good group of young players who want to listen, want to learn, want to improve and want to progress in their careers.
“We are ahead of where I expected us to be. I didn’t expect us to be where we are with the structure and consistency we have found in the last few matches.
“But the 11 that started last week know that there is competition.
“The good example was the goalkeepers last weekend. Rhys was injured and Jackson Smith has come in and did well.
“He didn’t have a huge amount to do but when he did, he was professional and Rhys has now got to work hard to get his place back.
“That goes for the 11 that started last week. They have to work hard to stay in the side.
“These are lovely problems for me to have but that’s what you want as a football manager.
“When I first came here, we only had three on the bench going into games both home and away.
“Now, we are looking a bit more competitive and a bit more robust and we look like we could challenge in better areas of the league than we have been.”
The Poppies, meanwhile, now know where they will be playing next Saturday as they begin their Emirates FA Cup campaign.
Monday’s draw for the second qualifying round saw them handed an away tie at Northern Premier League Midlands side Spalding United.
The Poppies Supporters Coach will be travelling to Guiseley on Saturday, departing Latimer Park at 11am. Anyone who would like to book a seat should contact Brian on 07910 793276.