JUST what will the new year hold for Whitchurch Alport?
Only a few weeks ago some feared their promotion push might have been dealt a hammer blow when Luke Goddard’s co-manager departed, taking some talented players with him.
But this group are a resolute bunch and Saturday’s emphatic 5-1 win at home to St Helens was the perfect platform on which to build.
For the game to even take place took a group of volunteers – including Goddard – to give up their early Friday evening to clear standing water from the Yockings pitch so it could be rolled.
That spirit goes right through the club and more were at the ground on Saturday giving their all to make the pitch playable.
Their reward came at the final whistle – but the scars on the pitch were clearly visible and some dry weather this week might be the order of the day.
Goddard said: “I must credit everyone at the football club for getting that game on. Obviously, I tried to lead the preparation on Friday night, along with a few others.
“The pitch was then in a good condition when we left and we were proud of what we’d achieved.
“However, more rain overnight left us with what looked like an impossible job on Saturday to clear more water and try to make it playable.
“An outstanding effort from the group of volunteers – including staff and players – got the pitch into a condition where the match official was happy to pass the pitch fit.
“It was boggy, it was muddy and it got damaged, but we need to get games on when we have the chance.
“We’ve risen from eighth to fourth in a little over a month and that shows you, when you can gain momentum, what it does to the confidence of everyone.”
The manager and his backroom staff set the players a simple target over the three games during the festive period – maximum points!
And with Ben Mills, Sean Griffiths and Dean Twigg all netting twice across those three games, it was mission accomplished for the Reds, who lie fourth in the table ahead of the visit of Sandbach United this weekend (3pm).
So what did Luke make of his side’s endeavours against Saints?
He said: “Because the pitch was so incredibly soft, it meant the game needed to be managed.
“I warned the lads the side who made the fewest mistakes and made the better decisions on that pitch would win.
“We started well and should have been at least three goals in front. We missed chances, though, and then gave away a really poor goal.
“Defensively it was disappointing and Dan Read then had to make a decision. Sometimes you get away with it – but not on this occasion.
“St Helens tucked away the penalty and from that point the game was really poor, clearly not helped by the pitch, but we looked a frustrated side.
“Half-time came with a chance for us to touch on a few things and I said to them one team will win this today because if it’s 1-1 with 10 minutes to go, I’m chucking five upfront to win it, because a point at home is neither here nor there – we want to go for wins.
“I explained once more about the importance of managing the game properly for the next 15 minutes, and I said they knew they would be the stronger side across the last third of the match.
“They did exactly that and in the end we looked a real force, even on a tacky playing surface.
“Again, I thought the impact off the bench helped – Alex, Kev and Dean all added even more quality against a tiring St Helens side late on.
“Although it was nice to get the goals, the biggest thing that made me proud was the lads’ effort yet again.
“The whole atmosphere at the ground was full of positivity.
“We have some great momentum we said would arrive and as a group, the players have delivered the target they set themselves for this Christmas period.
“We end the year riding the wave, full of confidence but determined to try to kick again in 2018.”
On Saturday, the Reds host Sandbach and will be out for revenge after two goals in the last five minutes saw United run out 2-1 winners.
Alport have won every game since then – and Goddard expects a difficult encounter.
He said: “Sandbach picked up an impressive victory against leaders Silsden in their last game and were the last side to beat us, of course.
“So they’re going to come here with their tails up as they look to regain one of the play-off positions.
“We were poor in that reverse fixture – really flat – and I had no complaints on the day with the result.
“However we are a different beast now, so regardless of what side Sandbach bring to Yockings we will be ensuring we do everything to extend this winning form.
“The problem is they chop and change so much – you’re never sure what side you will face as they have a link with Nantwich Town and regularly get players from there.
“The pitch will be in the hands of the weather gods, without question, as it was in a really bad way after Saturday’s match.
“But as we proved, we will always do all we can to get games on.”
n The draw has been made for the semi-finals of the Ethelston Cup, although dates are yet to be confirmed. And the draw threw together the two teams who most wanted to meet each other in the final.
There is sure to be a sizeable gate when Alport play current holders Malpas.
The winners will play St Martins or Allscott to contest the trophy in the final.