LEIGH RMI's indifferent start to the season can be put down to a lack of fitness by many of their players writes David Magilton

That is the honest assessment of assistant manager Mark Ward who believes the number of goals they have leaked late on in games highlights the lack of fitness.

The 40-year-old, who has played at the highest level for Manchester City, Everton and West Ham, accepts that it is difficult for Leigh's part-timers to compete in the Nationwide Conference, but says they must improve their fitness levels if they are to avoid relegation.

"We are playing mainly against full time teams and it is clear that we have lost several games late on and this is down to fitness levels," he admitted. "We have a small squad and have had to turn out players who only have two or three games under their belts and are not fit. That puts pressure on the other players.

"I can only work with the lads for an hour twice a week. I played full-time and part-time and I have told them it is what they do away from the club in between training that determines whether we stay up. They have to get fitter.

"They are never going to be as fit as full time players but they have to get near enough to it. I keep on drumming it into them but some of our players are so far short of the fitness levels required that other lads are carrying them.

"Dino Maamria and Phil Salt have carried the team for most of the season and the others have to get to their standard."

The Railwaymen have defied the odds by remaining in the Nationwide Conference for the past two seasons, but face their toughest challenge this term with a reduced squad and even tighter purse strings.

They are yet to pick up a point away from home and only ended a run of five successive defeats with a victory over Stevenage Borough at the weekend. The Hilton Park side are currently third from bottom but not yet adrift and Ward is looking for another improved display on Saturday.

"We have to build on the win and pick up points at Gravesend," said Ward. "We are trying to do a professional job and three wins on the run would get you right back up the table because everyone is beating each other. If we don't get it sorted we will be so far behind by Christmas we will be in the Unibond.

"Success for us is to stay in the division and hopefully we can do that. When you look at what the manager has financially it is amazing he has kept them in the league for the past two seasons."