Penistone Church manager Ian Richards is convinced his side can compete in the top half of the NCEL Premier Division after winning 4-2 at Grimsby Borough in the Division One play-off final to reach their highest level in their 110-year history.
Church, who finished in the lowest of the play-off spots in sixth position, followed up their excellent 3-1 win at favourites AFC Emley in the semi-final by powering into a 4-1 lead after 55 minutes in Grimsby before the hosts netted a consolation.
Richards, who runs the team alongside his brother and player/coach Duncan, said: "It was an amazing day and a great result. We were convincingly the best team and to be 4-1 up in a play-off final away from home is incredible."
"To get promotion is an unbelievable achievement. "It is all based on meticulous preparation and attention to detail as well as a squad who have an unbreakable team spirit. Anything that has come our way, we have dealt with it."
"We have a really good balance between organisation at the back and some real quality going forward. Once we lost at Hall Road Rangers (in late February) automatic promotion was out of our hands so myself and Duncan began to work on strategies and tactics for the play-off games because we expected to play Grimsby and Emley."We knew they were very attacking sides and we could beat them by frustrating them and then counter-attacking, which the players did brilliantly."
Church – who finish the season with the League Cup final at Sheffield United's Bramall Lane against Bridlington on May 17 – are now hoping to at least emulate Athersley Rec who finished in the top ten in their first season at NCEL Premier level in 2014, and repeated that position this season.
Richards said: "We don't want to be looking over our shoulders at the relegation zone. I have never done that in my managerial career and it is not in my make-up. Athersley Rec have set the benchmark by finishing in the top ten and I don't see why we can't emulate that, as well as having some success in the cups again."
"I want to keep the nucleus of this squad and give them the opportunity to play at the next level but I will need to bring in three or four new signings to give us extra strength in depth which we have lacked at times."
Ian and Duncan have been compared to the Cowley brothers, Danny and Nicky, who secured promotion to League Two with Lincoln City and reached the FA Cup quarter-final this season – after starting with Concord Rangers, who play at a lower level than Church, and coaching alongside being PE teachers like the Richards brothers.
Ian admits the pair – who have now achieved two promotions over eight years in charge – are ambitious and that Penistone are unlikely to challenge for the one promotion spot in the NCEL Premier in the near future.But he insists he is fully focused on leading his hometown club into new territory.
He said: "Currently it's unrealistic for us to compete for first place. We will be up against sides with big budgets, and we only pay our players a small win bonus. It is one of the hardest leagues to get promoted out of with only one place. We want to build slowly and maybe our financial make-up will change with increased gates and more sponsorship. We might be able to start competing near the top in the next three years.
"I am ambitious and I want to manage at a higher level. But it is a case of moving to the right club at the right time. I am more than happy at Penistone Church, it is my club. If an opportunity comes up for me to move away, I will have to look at it but, at the moment, I am thinking about taking Penistone into the new league next season and helping them establish themselves in it over two or three years."
After a goalless first 25 minutes in the play-off final at Grimsby, Penistone thrilled their 90 visiting fans with two goals in two minutes from Jack Moore and Andy Ring. Borough pulled one back but Danny Barlow made it 3-1 to the visitors before the break then Ring got his second ten minutes into the second half. Grimsby got their second with a quarter of an hour to go but could not find a way back into the match.
Centre-back Ryan Johnson made a five-hour round trip from a stag weekend in Liverpool to play in the match. Richards said: "That shows the commitment to our team from all the players."
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