MELKSHAM Town caretaker manager Luke Ballinger has told his current crop of players that they will have to get used to tough games against quality opposition if they want to remain at the club next season, writes JONATHAN LEIGHFIELD.

Melksham play their last match of the Southern League Division One South campaign at home to promotion-chasing Cirencester Town on Saturday as they look to end a tumultuous season with a win.

Ballinger revealed he speaks to Ciren manager Charlie Griffin regularly and has backed the Centurions to achieve promotion on the back of their fertile goalscoring season.

But after two defeats over the Easter weekend, Ballinger is demanding a response from his own team and wants his players to raise their game for the visit of Cirencester.

He said: “They still have a chance of coming second, so they’re going to be up for it, and we know it’s going to be a tough game.

“We got a good hiding at their place, but they play on a different surface and they know it well.

“Plus, let’s not forget, they’ve scored over 100 goals this season, so they’ve been a threat to every team in the league.

“It’ll be another tough game against a side that, if they do finish second, will probably go up because of their home advantage.

“I speak to their manager weekly, if not daily, and I know what they’re about. I just need to come up with a plan to try and stop them.

“Our last six games, we’ve had five of the top eight, so it’s been a tough run and we’re finishing with another tough one.

“But I’ve said to the boys, if they want to play at this level, they’ve got to get used to these kinds of games. It’s a learning curve for them.

“It’ll be a hard game, but they get a long rest after Saturday, so give me everything.”

Following the departure of ex-manager Kieran Baggs, Melksham were allowed to sign a completely new squad of players – most of which came from their reserves and youth teams – and Ballinger has been largely happy with their efforts.

The 31-year-old believes that promising performances now will give the previous outsiders a chance to stake a claim for a squad spot next season.

He said: “If they want to make that step up, these are the games that they’ve got to want to play in.

“You’ve got to learn from them, and you’ve got to learn quickly.

“I know it sounds quite harsh, but that’s just the reality of football at this level.

“I know some of them have stepped up three or four leagues and some of them have done really well.

“Those guys will have a chance with whoever the manager is next season to come in pre-season and have a go at impressing.”