Michael Dunwell reckons a change in attitude is firing Stockton Town towards the Northern League title.
The Anchors have been one of the big success stories in the Non-League pyrmaid in recent years after securing two promotions in three seasons and reaching the FA Vase Final less than 12 months after winning the Step 7 Wearside League title.
Now, a third promotion inside five seasons is well within their grasp after an impressive first half to the season which sawthem lose just one of their opening 24 league games of the campaign.
Prior to yesterday’s visit of Ashington, Dunwell’s side held a six-point lead over second-placed Hebburn Town, with Shildon lying a further three points behind in the third and final promotion place.
It’s a run which has naturally brought more than the odd admiring glance from league rivals but Dunwell, pictured, says it took a period of soul searching, both on and off the pitch, to put the club in the position for a first ever promotion into Step 4.
“Everyone expects this year, and it’s probably been our most difficult season because every game we go into the supporters are expecting us to win,” he told this week’s edition of The Non-League Paper.
“This year, we are expected to go up but it’s not as easy as that. There are other teams that want to beat you and it has been difficult because teams are putting bodies behind the ball, so it hasn’t been as open as it has been in the past.
“But from our point of view, that was one thing we had change because we wanted to become more solid and I think we have done that with hard work and persistence.
“We have been more professional in our setup this season and we are training twice a week.
“That’s us learning as we go and the more you learn, going to places like Guiseley and South Shields, speaking to their experienced staff, you realise we can keep improving and learning.”
Stockton Town look more equipped for promotion after an impressive summer of recruitment bolstered their squad with genuine quality.
Darlington midfielder Tom Portas and Whitby Town defender Dan McWilliams brought experience of a higher level and the recent capture of former Hartlepool United winger Jonathan Franks showed real ambition.
Dunwell is confident that the strength in depth that the Anchors squad possesses can help them get over the line in their bid to claim the Northern League title.
“Our experience in the squad will be vital,” Dunwell added. “You see the likes of Jordan Robinson, Tom Portas, Dan McWilliams and Jamie Owens – they have all had experience of the leagues above us.
“I think we have the experience to get over the line and you could see at South Shields in the Durham Challenge Cup where we made substitutes and brought on Mikey Roberts, Nathan Mulligan and Jordan Robinson. We aren’t weakening the team and we feel stronger.
“We want to keep the distance between the other sides and ourselves, and we feel that we have a squad that can cope with the expectation and the busy period that lies ahead of us.”
Make sure you get your copy of The Non-League Paper on Sunday for the latest news from across Non-League over the last seven days.
As well as exclusive match reports and pictures from all of Saturday’s fixtures in the Vanarama National League, the BetVictor-Sponsored Isthmian League, Southern League and Northern Premier League, The Non-League Paper’s live coverage extends all the way to Steps 5 and 6.
Image courtesy of YouTube