By Hugo Varley
Harry Wheeler’s decision to return to Billericay Town just 147 days after being sacked certainly raised a few eyebrows – but, so far, it’s hailed a remarkable turnaround in fortunes.
Since the 30-year-old’s re-appointment at the New Lodge midway through January, Ricay have picked up maximum points at home, whilst staying unbeaten on the road – a run of form which has helped to breathe new life into the Essex side’s promotion challenge in National League South.
An ill-fated spell in charge of Maidstone United separated his two stints at Billericay, and Wheeler is just delighted to be back to winning ways.
“It has been a superb start and it is great to be back” he told The NLP. “It was a really strange feeling to come back and it wasn’t something that I was expecting to happen, but I want to finish the job that we started here.
“When I came in the team had had a really tough run of results and for one reason or another things were not working out.
“On my first day back I told the players that this was a chance to press the reset button.
“We were near the top and had a great chance of winning promotion at the start of the season. Now it is probably too late to go for a title challenge, but we have our sights fully on the play-offs.”
Wheeler’s brief flirtation with the National League lasted less than four months before the young boss left Maidstone just after Christmas.
But although he accepts he failed to make his mark in the top-flight with the Stones, Wheeler says that his experience in Kent served as a vital learning curve.
“I came away from Maidstone a much better manager,”?he claimed. “You learn a lot more in hardship than you do when things are going well, and I found out a lot about myself during my time there.”
Wheeler’s return to the New Lodge signalled a U-turn from Billericay owner Glenn Tamplin who has dispensed with both Wheeler and Dean Brennan since winning the Bostik Premier title last season.
During the course of this campaign Ricay announced a significant cut to their inflated player budget, prompting key players such as Jake Robinson and Adam?Cunnington to leave, which triggered a damaging dip in form, leaving the club well adrift of top spot and the front-runners.
But with stability now seemingly restored and results heading in the right direction, Wheeler is confident that his second spell in charge will herald a continuation of success.
“That aim of eventually reaching the Football League is still there, I wouldn’t have come back if there wasn’t a level of ambition,” he added ahead of yesterday’s trip to East Thurrock United.
“Financially we are not in the same position as we were and the squad hasn’t got the depth that it had at the start of the season, but we are still in a healthy position.
“We are trying to bring back a lot of people that were here before so last week the old kit man came back and it is great to have Jamie O’Hara working on the coaching side of things for us.
“There is a good atmosphere around the place again, and we will work tirelessly to make a push for promotion this season.”