Paul Holleran believes his Leamington squad are in the ‘best shape’ he’s ever known – but expects the club to remain a ‘hunting ground’.
The Brakes boss marked 12 years at the club last week, a timespan which has seen him enjoy promotions and establish his team as a force in the National League North.
And on Wednesday evening the reigning champions reached the quarter-finals of the Birmingham Senior Cup with a 3-1 victory at home to a gutsy young West Bromwich Albion side.
“Our story has been a gradual progression,” he said.
“Certain clubs have the facilities, like a York or a Fylde, that are big enough to bounce back up through the leagues quickly.
“There are other clubs that have to do it step by step.
“There are times we’ve built a squad and thought ‘this could compete’ but over the years we’ve lost good players.
“I’ve no issue with that, it’s part and parcel of football. But when you’re doing well the interest comes and speculation comes and that sometimes is where it becomes difficult.”
Once again teams are taking notice of Leamington, currently sixth in the table following Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Chorley, and one of four clubs in the play-off spots locked on 21 points.
In a tight game set pieces proved to be the difference, with Chorley’s goal coming from a first-half corner.
And while Holleran knows this may once again alert rival clubs to his players, he is proud of the team he has put together.
“Other clubs can offer full time football, which is what young players want,” he added.
“It’s something we can’t do but we’ve had some fantastic success stories.
“But when you have young players doing well you become a bit of a hunting ground.
“Teams know we have young players and we’re doing well.
“We lose one or two and rebuild then lose one or two, that’s why it’s a gradual climb for us.
“We’ve always been fortunate enough, because of the model, to get other young good players in.
“This group at the moment is very strong - it’s 16, 17 deep and there’s a lot of versatility and young legs. It’s probably the best shape we’ve been in as a squad, but the price of success is sometimes losing one or two.”
Wednesday’s Birmingham Senior Cup win saw Brakes take a ninth-minute lead thanks to Jack Lane’s volley in at the back post from a Devon Kelly-Evans free kick.
West Brom levelled just before the break, but man of the match Callum Gittings restored the lead just after the hour mark, heading in Stephan Morley’s free-kick at the far post. Joe Parker then made sure of the cup holders’ place in the next round when he slotted home in the 73rd minute, to keep Leamington fans enjoying the cup run.
Holleran had used the occasion to utilise his squad, handing Junior English a first start of the season along with the captain’s armband in the absence of Jack Edwards, who was rested. Academy prospect Jack Sang, recently signed on first team forms, was on the substitutes bench.
Leamington entertain 16th-placed Southport, on Saturday (KO 3pm).