“The players have been fantastic, they’ve given their all”

After Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Thornaby in Whitley’s final fixture of the season, manager Nick Gray reflected briefly on the game but concentrated his thoughts on the season as a whole before looking ahead to the 2023/24 campaign.

“If I’m being honest I don’t really want to speak too much about today. Well done to Thornaby. I thought they were really good in the first half, we were better team second half but they certainly deserved something out of the game overall, but I don’t want to speak a lot about today really. I think it showed us our limitations. I think we should look at the whole season, where we are, the progress we’ve made. We’ve got to keep on wanting to progress and we will. We’ve had too many days like today over the season which is the reason why we finished fourth, which I don’t think is a bad thing. It’s progress, but I’m an impatient person who wants things to get better quicker all the time. Sometimes we have to go back before we can go forward but I think today it’s been a disappointing end of the season.

“Over the full season we’ve had some good things; we’ve had more good than bad. We’ve had nearly 9000 people through the door at home games and an average of about 400. We want to improve that next year. I want to improve the squad next year. We need to make some decisions in the next ten days. I’m being honest with the players, where we think they’re at. If we’re going to improve we must basically be in the play offs at least, next year so to do that we have to get better. We’ve got lads who are coming towards the end of their career; we’ve got lads who need more minutes to get better, lads who are still learning the trade.  To compete in the play offs next year we need to have possibly better players in certain positions.

“We’ve finished fourth and the League at the end of the season doesn’t tell lies. We’ve been the fourth best team overall this season. We had a fantastic first half of the season. Second half we’ve dipped in some games and we’ve got to assess the reasons why and learn from them. They’re disappointing, the losses, but we’ve got to take them on board, accept them and see how we can do better. I think I know where we’re at. The players this season have been fantastic all season. They’ve given their all. They’ve turned up from pre-season training back in June right the way through until now. I cannot ask any more of the players. They’ve given their all, however it hasn’t been good enough at times. That’s the thing about football, it tells no lies and the league tells no lies. Over the season it’s about teams and their forms and some teams dip in form. I’m proud of the lads where they’ve been this year. It’s progress and we’ve just got to improve again next year. To improve we need at least play off place but that’s not what we’re looking for. We want to win the league next year, however there’ll be about another ten teams want to win the league if we’re being honest who’ve all got a chance to win the league, so it’s not going to be easy. We’ve got to tweak things, change things. One player who's moving on is Malky Morien. I want to thank Malky who's our top goalscorer and more importantly a top person and I thank him on behalf of everyone at Whitley Bay for all his efforts over the years.

“It’s been a challenging year personally. It’s been hard to motivate myself this year with personal things in my life, but football has kept my mind focussed from the distractions, which hasn’t been easy. I’ve enjoyed this season overall and I think the players have. I think they’ve just got to enjoy the break and be hungry to have success. Your weekends when you win games are a massively different. The support has been great, and we’ve had good support again today. The players will enjoy their rest. We’ve already started looking at next year. We’ve already got players who’ve agreed to come next year. We’ve got to identify where we can strengthen and although nothing’s signed on paper yet, for me a gentleman’s handshake is as good as a signing on paper. So we’ve already started preparing for next year and it’s going to be an exciting summer. We’re looking for players but you’ve got to work hard to get them. You’ve probably got to speak to 15 to get 5.

“When we start pre-season it’ll be a very similar schedule to last year, when we want to challenge ourselves against teams in higher leagues. So we’ll let the lads enjoy the break. We’ve got to be proud of our efforts this year as a group but it’s about going in the right direction. We’ve got to find different ways of winning games of football and the mentality has got to be different in certain games as well.

“You’ve got to keep on moving forwards. I think I’m nearly 750 senior games as a manager. I’ve enjoyed the majority and that’s why I do it. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t. This is why I hate losing. I just wanted to finish the season on a high, and we just didn’t get there. We’ve done well. I’ll enjoy the break but we need to be hungry to do better!

“It s been a challenging year losing Derek, a great loss for the club and we can’t replace him if I’m being honest. But the world’s got to keep on moving and we’ve all got to work together and it’s easier if we do it together. We all want to do better next year but as I’ve said, so will a lot of teams.”

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