DARREN Manning is bursting with pride after guiding Hullbridge Sports to safety in the club’s first ever season in the fourth tier of non-league football.

Sports’ campaign has effectively come to a premature end after it was announced the remaining Isthmian North fixtures will not take place as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

And Manning, who took over at the Ryan’s Heating Stadium in November 2017, is pleased to have achieved his pre-season target of avoiding an immediate return to the Essex Senior League.

“It’s been a rollercoaster ride in our first ever season at this level,” said Manning.

“We started the campaign poorly but then picked ourselves up before dropping off again shortly ahead of this enforced break.

“The decision to stop the season now means we have ended in a bad bit of form, but we expected to go on runs without a win.

“It was a case of us needing to deal with those disappointing runs correctly and I think we did.

“I have learnt a hell of a lot from a personal point of view because I have been assistant manager here and at Grays Athletic but being in the top job is a different kettle of fish.

“Our aim at the start of the season was to stay up, so I am delighted we have achieved that even if the season has not ended how we would have wanted.”

Manning pinpoints several highlights over the course of the campaign.

But Manning believes a goalless stalemate in August proved to be an early turning point for his inexperienced squad.

“The 0-0 draw with Aveley was when the boys realised they deserve to be at this level,” added Manning.

“We put in a performance that made the players believe they are good enough to play in the Isthmian North.

“Although we then lost to Canvey Island, we had confidence from the draw with Aveley and that spurred us on to get our first win at Cambridge City.

“We only suffered two away defeats up until February and that is a fantastic achievement for a group of players who are new to this level.

“For a lot of our players, it’s their first season in the Isthmian North.

“I’m incredibly proud of them and what they have achieved.”

The Isthmian League confirmed in a statement earlier this week they intend to end the season immediately.

Manning does not envy those who decide whether teams win promotion or suffer relegation.

“I thought the Isthmian League were going to wait for the Premier League, Football League and National League to make a decision, so I was a little surprised they made the announcement so soon,” admitted Manning.

“Deciding whether to put promotion and relegation into force will cause problems because they won’t have everyone agreeing.

“I don’t envy those who have to make the decision as I can see both sides of the argument.”