72 goals scored, 23 conceded and 11 points clear at the top.
It is fair to say that Morpeth Town’s first season in Step 4 has been rather successful.
Following promotion from the Northern League last year, Nick Gray’s side have taken the Evo-Stik East by storm this year, marking another feather in the long serving manager’s cap.
Gray, who has been in the hotseat since 2011, has helped develop a resurgence in the club’s fortunes, leading them to FA Vase glory under the arch in 2016 and with a potential rise up the pyramid now in the offing, excitement is quickly building at Craik Park.
The Morpeth boss told The NLP, “The plan this season was to see if we could make a push for the play-offs so we have really surpassed what we wanted to do already.
“We were told that we had to go up last year so we just thought, why not give it a go and see what happens.
“The lads have been top of the table since about September, which you could say has put a bit of pressure on us but we have made a conscious effort not to dwell on any bad results and thankfully when we have fallen to a defeat we have often immediately bounced back with a win.
“Last year we were ahead for quite a long time but ended up not winning it and I think we have learned a lot from that.
“We have always attacked well but we knew this season that we needed to concede less and I am delighted at how resolute we have been defensively.
“It means that we we don’t need to score three or so goals to get a win and it has allowed us to have a superb goal difference, which in my opinion is almost equal to having an extra point on the board”.
While local neighbors South Shield’s impressive rise up the divisions has often hit the headlines, Morpeth’s recent run of success has perhaps gone slightly under the radar.
However, there are signs that this could well be changing…
At the start of the month, the club smashed their highest ever attendance record as over 1,450 fans descended onto Craik Park to watch the Highwaymen beat a Newcastle Under 23 side to progress to the final of the Northumberland Senior Cup.
Gray added: “The local residents are really embracing what we are doing here and it is great to see more and more people coming to watch.
“We have played the Newcastle Under 23’s a few times over the past few years and we have never had a crowd like that so it shows that the club is really moving in the right direction.
“People like to come and see attacking, fast paced football and we have provided that this year.
“I think that we have hardly had a 0-0 at home this season, although I have probably tempted fate by saying that ahead of Saturday!
“There is some brilliant work going on behind the scenes here and there is a real ambition for success across all corners of the club.
“I think if you came to visit three of four years ago, you would notice a massive difference to how things are now”.
Promotion from the Northern League has required the Highwaymen to adapt to a number of tricky logistical challenges, one of which has been a grueling travelling schedule.
Morpeth are by far the northernmost side in the division this season, which led to mammoth trips to face the likes of Wisbech Town, Stamford and Loughborough Dynamo.
Nevertheless, Gray believes that these long journeys have often proved to be a blessing.
“In a strange way I would say that the travelling has actually helped us” he continued.
“It has helped to bring the whole team together and has really fostered a sense of unity among the lads.
“We said at the start of the season that whatever the result, we are going to ensure that it is a happy bus on away trips and so far that is exactly what has happened.
“Fortunately we have only had three mid-week away games.
They are particularly tough because we need to leave at about 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon, which clashes with a lot of people’s work commitments”.
Now, with promotion seemingly close to their grasp, the Highwaymen could be forgiven for having one eye on the future.
However, Gray is refusing to get carried away.
“I know it is an overused phrase but we have got to keep looking at things one game at a time.
“We are not up yet and we certainly will not be allowing ourselves to get complacent.
“If we do get promotion then we will start planning for what we want to achieve next over the summer.
“I don’t really want to look too far ahead but I certainly believe that with a few years work the club has the potential to compete at Conference North level.
“That is looking well into the future though and for now at least I am just looking at getting another three points on Saturday!”
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