HULLBRIDGE Sports boss Darren Manning admits he has been surprised by how difficult it has been to adapt to life in the fourth tier of non-league football.

Sports are plying their trade in the Isthmian North after being crowned the Essex Senior League champions on the final day of last term.

Having beaten Cambridge City to claim their first win of the campaign at the fourth attempt, Manning concedes there is a large gap in terms of quality between the two divisions.

The Hullbridge boss said: “We’re still in a transition period and the step up from the Essex Senior League to the Isthmian North has been massive.

“If I’m honest, the step up has probably been a bit bigger than I anticipated it being, so we’re still trying to tweak things.

“We’re doing well defensively away from home and have kept a clean sheet in each of our three away games so far.

“But we need to start being more clinical in front of goal.

“We need to be a real threat to win games, rather than just stay in them.

“I’ve told the players that I don’t care who we play or what competition, having that winning mentality and finding ways to win games is invaluable.”

Sports followed up their triumph over Cambridge by recording a penalty shoot-out win over Canvey Island in the first round of Isthmian League Cup group stage clashes.

After the encounter finished goalless, Sam Taylor, Tim Monsheju, Adebola Sotoyinbo, Michael Salako and Jamie Salmon were on target from 12 yards to ensure a 5-3 shoot-out success.

And Manning felt plenty of positives came from the outing.

“I thought we were alright and comfortable,” added Manning.

“Obviously they made a lot of changes but they still had quality in their team.

“I was very happy with our boys and we tried a new shape, so it was interesting to see how they adapted.

“We controlled the game but we could have been more clinical in the final third. That is something we need to improve on.

“When you can make five substitutions, it allows you to get minutes into a lot of players’ legs.

“We had three players that came off the bench who have just come back from injury so it was good to integrate them back into the group.

“It was a pleasing night from our point of view and it was good to win on penalties.”