Melton RFC head coach Gareth Collins believes his side can get themselves out of trouble after slipping into the Midlands One East relegation places.
The postponement of their match at second-bottom Huntingdon on Saturday, combined with Wellingborough’s win over Leighton Buzzard, left Melton in the bottom three for the first time this season.
A catastrophic series of long-term injuries, coupled with a run of fixtures against the division’s top sides, created a perfect storm which has seen the First XV lose their last eight matches.
The sequence has sent them plummeting down from mid-table comfort into a battle against the drop as they approach a defining final five matches of the season.
“It has been a very difficult season and things have snowballed. It’s just been one thing after another,” said Collins.
“We just haven’t managed to get enough key players fit and keep them fit, and we’ve lost a number of games we should have won.
“We have managed to compete with the sides even without a huge number of key players, we just haven’t been able to win games, and we’ve put ourselves in a position where we are fighting to survive.”
It is the first big test for Collins and captain Marcus Badham who have taken Melton to unparalleled highs over the last three seasons.
And the positive memories of back-to-back championships, two senior county cups and a top-six finish in their debut Midlands One campaign, could help them mentally in the crucial run-in.
“All five games are against teams in the bottom seven so it’s still very much in our hands.
The way the fixture list has gone we have played all the top sides, but what that created was a lack of confidence.
“We have lost heavily to those sides and that’s difficult to manage, but the players are still there and training.”
He added: “The focus was always going to be on those last seven or eight games and we’ve targeted those for a while.
“We have experimented with a few things against those top sides to be ready, using players in different positions and we know what we have to do.
“We have taken a few knocks certainly, but I have no doubt that we can, and should, get out of this situation. It’s going to take a big group effort.”
Melton have forged much of their success on the efficiency of a strong pack, an area which has been particularly badly hit.
Notable absentees among the 10 senior players missing in recent months have been Sam Badham and Leon Gormley who Collins hopes could be fit for the final few matches.
Prop Kieron Stone has also just returned, but ankle injuries have ruled out Dan Wakefield and Duncan Lennox for the season, while Lee Miller has been recruited by South Leicester, ironically as injury cover.
Others to be sidelined include Nick Crossland, Harvey Green, Harry Wood and Jack White.
“You know you are going to get injuries and I can work on having up to five changes in the side,” said Collins.
“But we’ve had weeks where two-thirds of the side is different from the game before.
“If I was to pick my best 15, at least half are out at the minute, and we’ve been constantly trying to adapt our game to the players we have out there.
“It has opened up opportunities for others in the club and will stand us in good stead if we can survive relegation this season, as so many of our squad have had significant game time at Midlands One.”
They begin their run-in at ninth-placed Leighton Buzzard on Saturday (kick-off 3pm) before the re-arranged fixture at Huntingdon the following weekend.
Then comes a home match against winless bottom side Market Rasen and Louth on April 7, and the season concludes with away matches at 10th-placed Wellingborough (April 14) and Northampton Old Scouts, in eighth (April 21).
“We are desperate to stay up having worked so hard to get here,” the coach added. “I’m very confident we can win enough of those games, but that isn’t going to be easy.
“Realistically if we can win three out of the five games we will be safe so that’s the minimum focus.”