Toolstation NCEL Premier Division
Craig Parry has hailed his history-making Pontefract Collieries players as they bid to complete the fairytale by clinching the unprecedented promotion to the Evo Stik.
The Colls have nine games remaining and seven wins would secure one of the two promotion spots and a passport to the Evo Stik for the first time in the club’s history.
It would also seal back-to-back promotions, an incredible achievement at any level of the game, especially since they were not expected to finish anywhere near the top end.
But it will be hard to pip AFC Mansfield and Pickering Town as the Colls are going to be playing nearly every night of the week to get their matches played. The wet weather and the brilliant FA Vase have created a major backlog.
“I think the club deserves to be in the Evo Stik when you look at everything going on behind the scenes,” Parry told Non League Yorkshire.
“I’m not just saying it because I manage this group of lads, but this group of lads have been here for 18 months and there’s lads who have come in from Sunday Football.
“They are honest lads who deserve Evo Stik Football, but let’s see what happens.
“If we can do it, it will be one of the biggest achievements in Non League football out there, but we can’t look that far ahead at the minute. We have to take it game-by-game and keep everyone level-headed.
“A lot of credit has to go to the players. I want to put on record how well these players have done because they don’t get enough credit.
“They have worked hard and they’re set of lads who are easy to manage. They work hard for each other and say it is a great achievement what they have done so far.
“I hope they can finish the job off.
“I’ve said to the players ‘we are down to nine games, the hard work is done’. We have to now grind, work hard, get the games out of the way and get the points on the board.
“It is going to be tough because of the amount of games we have to play and it is going to be a big demand on the lads.
“All we can ask is that they stay professional. We have to keep mixing it up and get the strongest and fittest side out each game and hope it is enough.
“Pickering and Mansfield are two very good teams, let’s not beat around the bush.
“They have two good management teams and it is going to be a massive battle from now until the end of the season.
“I think we’re underdogs because the amount of games we have got to play, obviously Saturday-Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday.
“Mansfield are obviously the favourites because they have the points on the board. We have still got to go to Mansfield and get something from the game.
“It is going to be tight. There’s going to be twists and turns from now until the end of the season.”
Parry and assistant Craig Rouse have raised the Colls from despair and into jubilation since taking over from Nick Handley in November 2015. Parry had planned to lead Pontefract into the Evo Stik in 2017, but relegation to Division One at the end of the 2015/16 season put pay to that.
Hard work over the past two years on-and-off-the-field has since turned Pontefract into a sustainable club. The ground and pitch are in great condition and their thriving community work is also the envy of many. Results have obviously followed, not just in the league, but also in the FA Vase.
“We have had a lot of positive vibes about the place in the past two years,” he said.
“When we got relegated we had a game-plan in terms of what we wanted to achieve and we’re really on track with that.
“The club as a whole is doing really well and everything is positive. We are sat second in the league, we got promoted last season and we’re looking to get another promotion this year.
“The players have put the club in a position no-one expected us to be anywhere near at the beginning of the season.
“The club has turned itself around and everything is good. What the players have done is almost unprecedented and you also have to look at the FA Vase run we had. It has been a fantastic effort.”
What makes Ponte’s achievements even more special is the fact that the Colls side is still mainly made up of same players who won promotion from Division One last season.
The Colls have scored 111 times in the league and Parry admits their magic formula has worked well for nearly two years.
“We have taken a lot of teams by surprise with the way we play and the way we bomb forward from minute one,” he said.
“A lot of teams come and don’t know how to set up against us. We overload a lot. A lot of people say we are very direct, but when you step-back, both our full-backs are on double figures for goals.
“Two years ago when we brought our own players in we worked and worked on the system. We have changed our system once in one game in 18 months.
“We play one way and we have good players that fit the system well.”
The Colls, who lost 1-0 at Penistone Church on Saturday, host Garforth Town on Tuesday night.
Parry confirmed that he expects the game to go ahead and does not plan to fill his car boot with sand to avoid a repeat of the controversial postponement in early January.