JAMES Wakeling is enjoying the challenge of managing Hullbridge Sports in boss Darren Manning’s absence.

Manning was hit with a three-match stadium ban, after being sent off in the 4-3 win over Sporting Bengal United in November, last week.

And assistant manager Wakeling, who was in charge as Sports sealed a 1-0 win over Hoddesdon Town at the weekend, is eager to play his part as Hullbridge continue their ascent towards the Essex Senior League summit.

“It was quite strange not having Darren at the game,” said Wakeling, who has been friends with Manning since the age of five.

“Darren has sat in the stands quite a lot and, typically, we were saying just before the ban was confirmed that he should maybe sit in the stands more often.

“We spoke on the phone before the game with Hoddesdon and he had a slight input on the team, but he didn’t want to say too much because he obviously wouldn’t be at the game and wasn’t able to see what impact could be made on the game by substitutes or anything like that.

“He left it in our capable hands and we’re a tight-knit backroom staff, so he knows he can trust us and we will do our best.”

Wakeling is looking to progress during his coaching career.

And he feels that leading Hullbridge in Manning’s absence will bode well for the future.

“I played in the Essex Olympian League when Darren was the manager of Herongate Athletic,” added the 30-year-old.

“I was his captain and then he obviously went onto be assistant manager at Grays Athletic.

“When he got the job at Hullbridge, he asked me to be his assistant and we could never have dreamt of fighting for the title in our first full season here.

“Darren has always said that if we went up the ranks and a massive job came up then he wants me to go with him.

“I may, later down the line, want to give management a go myself but I’m not getting carried away and I’m really enjoying working with Darren.”

Wakeling will be calling the shots once again when Hullbridge head to Enfield tonight.

Sports will move to within one point of table-topping Stansted with a victory and Wakeling is eager to triumph.

“It’s another cup final for us, like all of the games are between now and the end of the season,” admitted Wakeling.

“We went there last season and lost 4-0, but a lot has changed since then.

“They like to play football, but we will be going there to win.”