Paul Buckle is enjoying his first season in Football League management - particularly after the five-match unbeaten run that has taken his Torquay United team nine points clear of the Coca-Cola League 2 relegation zone and put them well on the way to survival following their return from the non-League ranks.

Buckle led the Gulls to promotion from the Blue Square Premier last season, only his second in charge after quitting as assistant manager at Exeter City to take over at Plainmoor. And though the step up to Football League level has been tough for all concerned at the club, the 39-year-old boss is happy with the progress made.

"I've thoroughly enjoyed this season," said Buckle. "It's been a big learning curve for us, and certainly for me as a young manager it's been a very good test. We were used to winning games in the Conference, but we didn't know too much about League 2 so we went into the season a little bit blind.

"We started out pretty well, but we quickly found out that no-one gives you anything in The Football League. You can't afford to give chances away and at the other end you have to take the chances you get, and in the younger players in particular I've seen some naivety that's cost us at times.

"In a lot of the games we've lost or drawn it's been down to conceding late goals, and that's been tough to take especially when we've deserved more out of games than we've got. We've been around the bottom of the table for a while and that's not a nice feeling, but now I believe we've found our feet and we're looking up not down."

With just a quarter of the campaign remaining, Buckle and his team look set to achieve their season's aim of maintaining the Football League status that took two years to regain following an unbroken 80 years as a League club before the 2007 relegation that plunged the seaside outfit to its lowest ebb.

Now they are back, and sooner than many envisaged. "When I came here," said Buckle, "there was a five-year plan to get into the League. So as the chairman said at the start of the season, we are three years ahead of schedule. That's great, but now we have to stay ahead and re-establish ourselves as a League club as quickly as possible."

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