CARETAKER boss Lee Spalding says Swindon Supermarine must become tougher to beat if they are to remain in promotion contention this term, WRITES NEIL BECK.

Despite a month-long winless run and the postponements of two home matches over the past week, Marine could return to the Southern League South West play-off places if they can take maximum points away to Bristol Manor Farm tomorrow.

But since beating their third-placed hosts 1-0 at the Webbswood Stadium on November 4, Marine have kept only one clean sheet and, alarmingly, have shipped 17 goals in their past five matches.

Injuries to key defensive duo Ash Taylor and Zak Westlake have played a part but Spalding, in temporary charge of the side following the departure of Dave Webb last week, says the responsibility for those statistics falls upon the team as a whole.

“You attack as a team and defend as a team,” said Spalding. “Yes, we’re missing two big players but it’s not just down to the centre halves.

“If you look back to the run we had at the start of the season, we weren’t conceding many goals and were nicking games 1-0 or 2-1. We’re looking for that again and my main aim is to make us harder to beat.”

Spalding joked that Marine’s weather-enforced lay-off had at least ensured he protected his unbeaten record at the helm, having presided over just one match – a 3-3 draw at Evesham United – so far. It is one he expects to be severely tested by a Manor Farm side who have adjusted impressively to life at the higher grade after winning the Toolstation League Premier Division title last term.

“The home game against them was one of our better performances but they’re a big, strong team and play it forward quickly, so we’ll need to deal with that,” said Spalding.

“They’ve got a goal threat in Dean Stamp up front and if we’re not good enough on the day then they’ll hurt us.

“The first objective is to keep a clean sheet. If we win then it would be a massive three points for us.”

Spalding hopes to have Ryan Campbell and Aaron Woodley available following ankle and hamstring injuries respectively. Both men would have been doubts for the scheduled midweek meeting with Slimbridge.

The Manor Farm game is likely to be Spalding’s last in charge, with chairman Jez Webb confirming yesterday that the club hopes to complete its search for a new permanent manager on Monday.

Webb said: “We’ve had 23 applications, to be precise, and I’m really encouraged that people can see where we’re at with the facilities and that we are ready to step up a level.

“We’re taking our time over it and have spoken to a couple of people over the phone. It’s quite exciting.”