By MARK BENGOECHEA
PETER WINTERBOTTOM is demanding more consistency from his Esher side as they start the second half of the campaign aiming to complete the double over local rivals Barnes at Molesey Road on Saturday.
The Eees have been dogged by lapses in concentration in the first half of the season that has thwarted their promotion ambitions and they lie in seventh place in National League Two South, 16 points off top spot with nine wins from 15 games.
Last week's dramatic 32-26 home victory over promotion hopefuls Clifton encapsulated Esher's season in which a poor first half saw them trail 26-8 before a remarkable second half saw them emerge victorious after an enthralling encounter.
Director of Rugby Winterbottom says his squad are well aware of the areas in which they have to improve but points out that the huge summer turnaround in both coaching and player staff meant promotion was always a tall order.
Now the Esher chief is looking for a strong second half to the campaign but warns his team to be wary of a Barnes side in their best form of the season after two successive wins and eager to avenge the 61-34 thrashing by the Amber and Blacks in September.
Reflecting on the Clifton thriller, Winterbottom said: "It was obviously very disappointing early on. For them to score with the first play of the game within two minutes of the kick-off was not a great way to start the game, and there was a lot of disappointing stuff in the first half.
"But even when they scored just before half-time to make it 26-8, I still felt that we could come back and win and the boys seemed to believe it. In the second half we showed a lot of character and defended with a lot more purpose.
"But looking back on the first half of the season, we have been inconsistent at times. We have had first halves where we have come out of the blocks and started particularly well, Barnes being an example back in September when we were 28 points up after half an hour only to go to sleep a little bit.
"So, of course, it's is one of the things we are looking at, and one of the things we spoke about last night (Thursday) was getting our consistency right and making sure that we get ourselves in the right frame of mind for each game, whether it be home or away.
"Realistically I wouldn't consider ourselves promotion candidates; we've dropped too many games. It would be an incredible turnaround to be able to come back and get promotion.
"What we are looking for as a side is to becoming more consistent". The coaches have learned a lot about the players and equally the players about the coaches and the players about the players. As a group of people, we are starting to come together, because there were quite a few changes over the summer and it takes quite a bit of time for everybody to become comfortable with each other.
"It's taken a little bit more time than we'd hoped but we believe that we are going in the right direction and we'll see what we can achieve in the second half of the season. We've set ourselves some goals and we'll see if we can achieve them.
"The thing about Barnes is they are a side that can score points if you are not on your mettle defensively and we are really going to have to be on our game to beat them and hopefully we can come out with our A game.
"They've had a couple of good wins over the past couple of weeks and will be on a bit of a high and they'll be coming to get another scalp."
Barnes are in 12th place in the table but two of their four wins have come in the last two matches, beating Old Albanian away and Westcliff at home last week, seven days after the Essex side toppled Esher at home.
Winterbottom makes three changes to his starting XV with Hugh Sloan coming into the second row for Adam Bullett, who is on the bench.
Sam Bullock starts at scrum-half with Jack Walsh amongst the replacements while the only change to the backs division sees Josh Clark come in at full-back for Callum Monks, who is unavailable.