It may have been gloomy on the long trip back to West Yorkshire following Guiseley’s FA Trophy exit on Tuesday night – but the picture is a lot clearer for boss Steve Kittrick this morning.
While a first-half goal from Luke Berry put Blue Square Premier outfit Cambridge into the quarter-finals of the national knockout competition at the Lions’ expense, the upshot is Guiseley can now focus on winning the right to rub shoulders with the likes of the U’s on a more regular basis.
That means winning promotion from Blue Square Bet North, either as champions or through a second stab at the play-offs following last season’s final defeat to Telford United.
And with just 15 league games to go and a maximum of two cup appearances – Guiseley play local rivals Farsley in the semi-finals of the West Riding County Cup on Tuesday evening – Kittrick can see a path to an automatic high.
Guiseley go into the first of those matches at home to Eastwood tomorrow lying in fourth spot in the table, but they are just a point adrift of Nuneaton and FC Halifax Town and nine behind table-toppers Hyde – and with three games in hand.
Kittrick said: “Sometimes you don’t get all you deserve out of football and that’s what happened on Tuesday night. We took time to get a foothold in the game and they had two shots in the first half and scored a goal, but apart from that they were never in it.
“We battered them but it was one of those nights where if we had still been playing now we wouldn’t have scored.
“It was disappointing on the way back because when you play so well against a team a league higher who are pushing to get into the play-offs and get nothing it does stick in the throat a bit.
“But at least it means without the possibility of further cup games and league matches being postponed because of them, we can see a clearer picture on the fixtures front and we can train all our thoughts now into winning the league.
“I have said to the players it is in our hands and we just have to be positive and focused and win as many football matches as we can.
“We have got 15 games left and if we win the lion’s share we will be in with a shout at the end of the season. We can be playing at places like Cambridge every week and that’s got to be the incentive.”
Tuesday night’s defeat was only Guiseley’s second in 21 matches in all competitions, a remarkable run stretching back to last October.
They are unbeaten in the league since a 4-1 reverse at Bishop’s Stortford in early January.
Tomorrow’s opponents Eastwood, in contrast, are struggling in second-bottom spot having won just three league matches all season, but Kittrick won’t be underestimating The Badgers, who desperately need points in the increasingly desperate battle to starve off relegation.
“They won’t fancy coming to our place but, equally, we will have to treat it right,” said Kittrick.
“They have their own cup finals down at the bottom between now and the end of the season. They are in a mini league to stay in the division and playing teams scrapping to stay in the league is as hard as playing teams battling to get out of it.”
Kittrick will be without the services of Mark Bower, who had to be substituted at Cambridge after suffering a calf strain.
But striker James Walshaw returns after being cup-tied in midweek while 21-year-old Norwegian midfielder Tomas Skaret Halvorsen, who recently signed for the club on a non-contract basis, could come into contention after impressing in training.
Meanwhile, third-placed Halifax, who went down 3-0 at home to Nuneaton in the league on Tuesday night, will be hoping to bounce back when they make the return journey tomorrow.
The result left Town behind Boro on goal difference.
Harrogate Town, in 17th spot, host sixth-placed Stalybridge Celtic.
Simon Weaver’s men go into that one in fine form, having won their last three games in all competitions and four out of their last five.