Toolstation NCEL Division One
Connor Rollinson believes Glasshoughton Welfare are capable of making a real push for glory next season.
Surprise package Glasshoughton claimed the final play-offs place by finishing sixth, before losing in the semi-final tie at Grimsby Borough.
The experienced NCEL midfielder expects Darren Holmes and Lee Vigars’ side to build on this season’s successes, as long as the current squad remain with the club.
“We spoke in the changing rooms after Wednesday and (coach) Richard Tracey spoke first and said he believes there is something special that could happen with a couple of additions as long as we keep the same set of lads,” Rollinson told Non League Yorkshire.
“Lee and Darren shared that view and they basically want everyone to come back and then strengthen in a couple of areas.
“It is really whether everyone stays and sticks together, which I hope they do.
“The club is clearly going in the right direction and I think next season if we don’t finish sixth or above then you would say that we have underachieved because we have set the bar.
“This season we haven’t played without any pressure. I just hope that we don’t fall under the pressure because to finish sixth. I just think we need to keep playing in the same manner we have been doing.”
Glasshoughton finishing in the play-offs was a surprise for many as Hallam and Selby Town were the favourites for sixth place right until the final few fixtures.
Until a dramatic 5-4 victory at Rossington Main in October, Welfare were in no man’s land and closer to the relegation zone than the play-offs.
The priceless win inspired a run of 19 wins, five draws and four defeats from their remaining 27 fixtures – accumulating in the play-offs clinching victory at Worsbrough Bridge on the final day.
Barnsley-fan Rollinson admits the campaign started badly, but says once changes were made in October, he and his team-mates felt unstoppable.
“From a bad start it has transformed into a very good season,” said Rollinson, who rejoined Welfare midway through pre-season having previously wore the blue and white jersey during Simon Houghton and Craig Wilkinson’s reign in the 2015/16 season.
“I think if we had started with the form we showed from October onwards, we’d probably have ended up going up with Knaresborough by finishing in second place.
“Back in October prior to the Rossington game there was an element of doubt and the personnel wasn’t right. I think we were getting the formation wrong a lot of the time.
“When you look at the turnover of the squad and look at who finished the season, there are six or seven players who weren’t there at the start of the season.
“We started really slow and we didn’t know our best squad until October. We then went on a good run, beating Eccleshill in December.
“We beat Shirebrook in January and then Selby the following week and we were saying at the time we didn’t feel like we were going to lose.
“Obviously we did lose to Grimsby and Campion, but at no time was there worries when balls were being pumped into our box. I never felt we would lose and if we went 1-0 down, I always felt we would come back. January was when we really started to believe we could reach the play-offs.
“Nobody were talking about Glasshoughton and that suited us because there was no pressure on us.
“We just played each game as it came, as daft as it sounds. A lot of the time I compared our form to what Barnsley did in 2016, the year they went up. They were bottom of the league at Christmas and they came from nowhere to finish sixth and went up.
“I really believed we could do it.”
Another aspect of why reaching the top six is such an achievement is because star men, captain Andrew McManus and showman Ryan Poskitt, left for Athersley Rec and Nostell Miners Welfare in December.
Despite neither been replaced by new signings, Glasshoughton maintained the same speed and Rollinson praised two players who stepped in to fill the voids.
“When Ryan and Andy left, people will have had the assumption that we were finished,” he said.
“But I just think people stepped up. You look at Adam Walsh’s performances. He wasn’t really getting in the starting line-up. Andy went to Athersley and Adam kind of took his place and stepped up and I think he’s had a great season.
“Tom Carr came back and he stepped up. Ryan could pull a goal out of nowhere, and although he didn’t score as many goals as Ryan, Tom Carr’s work rate and what he brings to the team, he did done a great job up there.”
Rollinson was given a starting berth in the play-offs semi-final tie at Grimsby. Although disappointed his side lost, the former Worsbrough Bridge captain, who started his semi-professional career with Pontefract Collieries nearly ten years ago, admitted it was one of the biggest games he had ever played in.
“When I played for Pontefract, we finished third or fourth, but there were no play-offs then,” he said.
“In terms of what we have achieved and the magnitude of the game I’ve played in then it is definitely up there.
“But for the game, and as daft as it sounds as we lost 3-0, I think we made Grimsby change the way they played. We made them go long and I think it was two lapses of concentration in the first half that cost us.
“You can’t give teams like Grimsby opportunities. I do think if we had stayed switched on then we would have gone in at half-time 0-0. But we ended up chasing the game. We missed three or four good chances in the second half and they went and scored. It was game-over then.”