HALSTEAD Templars feel they are close to achieving the principal aim for their season as they approach the close of the opening phase of their first campaign in the top flight of the Eastern Counties League.

Having been promoted as division two south champions last year, the Templars knew that survival at the higher level would be their first and foremost goal for the 2018/19 season and, with two games to go, backs coach Ed Merry feels they are "pretty much there".

Halstead signed off in 2018 with a stirring 81-5 victory against old rivals Harwich & Dovercourt and it was a win that left them sixth in the table and with a buffer zone of points between themselves and the sides in the drop zone with two games of the league part of their campaign to go.

Merry said: "We feel we are pretty much there after the result against Harwich.

"Harwich were only a couple of points behind us before we played them and, had they beaten us, it would have been tight.

"We have to play Colchester (thirds) in one of our last two games and that's going to be tough (as they are second) so it could have gone down to the last game.

"We are playing (bottom-placed) Brightlingsea, who have been struggling, in that last game but it still may have been touch and go for us.

"However, looking at the table after that result against Harwich, we are pretty confident that we will be OK.

"That's great because survival was always the aim.

"There was so much talk at the end of last year about whether we were good enough to come up to this level and it's nice that we have proved that we are.

"We were so dominant last year, but we had some guys who we relied heavily on and we knew that we couldn't do that if we came up; you have to have a strong team as a whole.

"There were some who thought we would struggle if we had one or two players out, but even though we have had injuries and some unavailable at times, I don't feel we have struggled too much.

"There have been some heavy defeats but I wouldn't say we have struggled and, in fact, teams towards the top of the table have regularly said that they're surprised we have been down towards the foot of the table.

"It's nice that they've been complimentary about us and with a full-strength squad, I think we have given opposition sides more than just a good run out.

"It was survival this year, so we'd like to look at mid-table over the next two or three years and then maybe start looking to get out of the Eastern Counties structure."

However, the season hasn't been without its trials for the Halstead club.

Availability hasn't always been as they would have wanted and Merry said they were actively looking to recruit heading into the second part of the season.

He added: "Last season we regularly had 25 available every week, but this year we have sometimes had 14 or 15 when we have been towards the bottom of the table. "We have had a second team that has played a few friendlies, but we just haven't had the numbers available for the firsts and we are always looking to add more strength.

"If there are players who fancy giving it a go, or someone who has stepped away and wants to get back involved after feeling they have hung their boots up too early, or a veteran who wants to play, then we'd be happy to hear from them.

"The platform is there for us to push on now and we feel we can attract others to come across because of the level that we are playing at."

Halstead will recommence after their Christmas break with their final two Eastern Counties League division one south outings, starting with the trip to Colchester on Saturday.

The end of the league season is then followed by a Suffolk Cup second round tie against Essex League division one side Clacton.

Templars will then be engaged in a robin-robin tournament against sides from Eastern Counties League division ones north and west towards the end of their campaign.