KEIGHLEY Cougars head coach Matt Foster only has six games left to save his beloved club from relegation into Betfred League 1, insisting it is vitally important to keep them in the second tier.

Keighley are one point from safety, having lost 10 of their last 11 games, and host out-of-form Batley on Sunday in dire need of a surprise victory.

With the IMG grading looming, falling back down to the third tier could prove a hammer blow for Keighley, even with their plans to restart a women’s team and build a modern, new stand.

Club icon Foster, who spent over a decade as a player at Cougar Park but had been living and coaching in Australia for over a decade, said: “For the club, their whole aspirations are about going north, so it’s really important to stay in the division.

“Part of my role is to get performances out of the players to put points on the board, in what is a tough division, but we’re all in the same determined mindset at the club.”

Foster is yet to win any of his three games in charge, and asked if the role had been tougher than he expected, he said: “If it had been going better, I wouldn’t be here in the first place.

“Coming into a club at the back end of the season is always tough, I knew that when I spoke to (co-owners) Ryan O’Neill and Kaue Garcia and agreed to join.

“But I’m starting to get to know everyone’s strengths and weaknesses better and apply that to our game plans.

“Everyone is getting a better understanding of the effort areas, but it’s not easy when a group has been together for a long period and you’re looking to alter things.”

Keighley News: Keighley are in the mire, and relatively new head coach Matt Foster does not have long left to save them.Keighley are in the mire, and relatively new head coach Matt Foster does not have long left to save them. (Image: JT Sports Media.)

But Foster added: “Their attitudes have been really good for me.

“One of the areas I felt we needed to improve was creating stability and with the routine they’ve got now, in training sessions, it’s just given the players some structure back.

“They’ve been used to different styles of coaches before me, so it’s not an easy situation, but I wanted to ensure I built an environment based on trust, understanding and working hard.”

Foster admits it was the pull of his old club that brought him back in the first place, saying: “I wasn’t looking for an opportunity in England.

“But with the history I’ve got here, this is a club I love, and with the situation they were in, there’s probably only Keighley I’d have helped out.

“I’d have probably just laughed if anyone else got in touch, but I was here for 11 years, so the club has a place in my heart.”

But away from the sentiment of the move, things look bleak for Foster and the squad.

Keighley had an agonising 18-10 defeat last time out in a relegation four-pointer at Swinton, with Foster reflecting: “It was a really close battle between two teams who were keen to make it a contest for 80 minutes.

“Both of us knew what was on the line and unfortunately we came out on the wrong side of the result.

“But we saw improvement, especially in our defence, but there were also green shoots in attack.

“There were lots of positives, but we are running out of time, so we know we need points on the board.”

Foster admits Cougars are in no position to target specific games given their perilous situation, saying: “For the boys, it’s really important to focus on each week and keep improving our performances.

“You need to do that each week because then results can start to slide your way.

“We have to stay tight and together on the field to do that.”

Other than Keenen Tomlinson (hand) and Anesu Mudoti, the latter very close to a return, Cougars are injury-free ahead of the game against Batley on Sunday.

But, after discussions with lawyers, the club will not be appealing key full-back Lewis Young’s one-game ban for Grade C Dangerous Contact, meaning he misses out against the Bulldogs.