Manager Marc Abbott has urged his St Neots Town players to finish the season as strongly as possibly – even though they are all but resigned to relegation.

St Neots Town manager Marc Abbott with physio Kayleigh-Anne Burt. Picture: MARK RIDERSt Neots Town manager Marc Abbott with physio Kayleigh-Anne Burt. Picture: MARK RIDER

Saints were cast eight points adrift of Southern League Premier Division Central safety last Saturday by a 3-0 home defeat at the hands of struggling Banbury on a day when relegation rivals Lowestoft won at Tamworth.

Banbury had only won one of their nine previous games - and hadn't sampled success on the road since September - but still breezed to victory at the Premier Plus Stadium.

That disappointing setback followed a 4-1 midweek defeat at the hands of Coalville with Saints now almost certain to be playing at Step 4 next season.

Boss Abbott said: "We had a little run of games where we competed well and picked up points, but just lately we have let some poor habits creep in.

"We've been too open defensively and have conceded too many goals. It's a case of being punished by good opponents at a tough level of football.

"It's a learning experience for myself and the players and we're all getting a massive amount out of it.

"We knew it would be very tough against Coalville last Tuesday, but we identified the Banbury game as a must-win fixture and unfortunately we didn't deliver.

"Banbury hadn't won away since September and weren't in great form. It was a game we fully believed we could get something from, but it didn't happen on the day.

"Banbury played a little more direct than they normally do to expose our weaknesses and they executed that gameplan really well.

"The fact Lowestoft went and won at Tamworth last Saturday made staying up even more difficult.

"We won't give up and even if we do go down, we still want to finish as high as we can."

Saints make the relatively short trip to Hitchin this Saturday, 3pm, when nothing but a victory will do if they are to mount a miraculous escape from trouble.

Abbott added: "Hitchin will be another difficult game against a good side who have pulled themselves clear of trouble.

"But we'll go there with the intention of producing a positive performance and hopefully picking up points.

"We know the situation we're in and we have to have an eye on next season at this point.

"The future is the bigger picture for the club and we're challenging a lot of the players to show they want to be a part of it by producing performances on the pitch in the remaining games this season."

* Saints have announced a link-up with Cambridge United Women, who will play at the Premier Plus Stadium from next season.