PAUL Cook believes it will only be possible to judge his reign as Accrington Stanley boss next season as he looks to make his own mark on the club.

Cook has been hampered by a plethora of injuries since taking over as manager from John Coleman in February and goes into tomorrow’s home match against AFC Wimbledon having taken only seven points from his first 10 games in charge, effectively ending any hopes of a play-off challenge.

But the 45-year-old has been grateful for the understanding shown by Stanley fans since his return to the club, after a previous spell as player-coach during the Reds’ Conference days.

A depleted Stanley side were applauded off for their efforts in Tuesday’s 2-0 home loss to Oxford and, asked if he might have been under pressure at other clubs, Cook admitted: “Possibly.

“In football nowadays, for managers there is more of a demand for results quickly. But with our club being the way it is, people seem to have the finger on the pulse.

“Tuesday night was fantastic. The lads got a great ovation off the pitch and that speaks volumes for me. I’ve always said as a manager you can’t kid supporters.

“A good Accrington supporter knows our squad, he knows the club and what he wants to see first and foremost is 100 per cent effort.

“They know we lost Danny Coid, Rob Kiernan and Toto Nsiala from Saturday’s defence, and we’re not a club that can just bring three replacements in.

“Those replacements are possibly Dean Winnard and Sean Hessey, who are sitting injured, so that’s five strong defenders we can’t pick.

“As a manager if you can get your strongest team out on the pitch regularly you will never be able to offer that excuse. I’m not offering it up as an excuse now, it’s just a statement of fact really.

“It’s about regrouping, getting the injured lads fit, getting the lads we want to be here next year here, making a couple of signings that we think will improve the squad and going forward into next year.

“Then there will be more of an opportunity for people to see what type of manager we have.

“When we speak about long term, we speak about going into next season. We’re not speaking about the famous five-year projects.”

Cook already has a number of targets in mind as he bids to improve his squad during the summer, although he has stressed that he still remains fully focused on trying to finish as high as possible this season.

“We’re not taking our eye off today but as a manager you have to forward plan and it’s trying to bring a better quality of player to the club,” he said. “You should be searching for that every day.

“It doesn’t mean we’re going to be chopping and changing players every week but what you’ve got to demand is that players come in, train hard and fear for their place.

“Unfortunately when we’re picking teams at the minute lads don’t fear for their place because they know they have to play.

“That’s not a criticism, it’s just a statement of fact.”

Cook has been pleased with the way his players have tried to overcome the club’s injury crisis but has stressed that no-one can afford to ease off in the remaining seven games of the season. Only Winnard and Luke Joyce currently have contracts for next term.

“A lot of lads are playing for contracts,” Cook said.

“We’ve got two contracted players on for next year so if anyone wants to put the slippers on I think they’ll find themselves in bed – and it won’t be a bed that we’ll be sleeping with them in.

“It’s about working hard to win every game we play.

“It’s a difficult time of the season when the play-offs seem possibly too far away for us.

“You don’t want lads slipping into a comfort zone. Fans turn up demanding that we try to achieve the maximum points available.

“I said to the lads before the Oxford game that we can all make excuses why we won’t win but we might as well not fulfil the fixture if that’s the case. Those games give an opportunity for other lads and I certainly felt they took it.

“It’s hard to be critical of players when they’ve put maximum effort in. The lads have been terrific.”