Clitheroe FC boss Simon Haworth is anticipating another extremely competitive campaign following his side’s 1-0 win over Atherton Collieries at Shawbridge.
The victory pushed the Blues to 14th in the Evo-Stik First Division North though they’re only three points adrift of the play-off places.
The former Wigan Athletic striker feels the division will take on a similar shape to last term where only five points separated ninth place Brighouse Town and third place Scarborough Athletic after 42 games.
“It’s so tight,” said the Welshman. “The top teams do look better than last season, there’s a few that look a cut above, but there’s not a lot between everybody else.
“It’s going to be more competitive than last year. You could toss a coin. Back to back wins have pushed us back towards the play-off places and we’re starting to piece a good run together now.”
The Ribble Valley outfit owed their latest triumph to in-form forward Kurt Willoughby as the 21-year-old pounced late on to score his 11th league goal of the season.
The hosts were denied a first half penalty when goalkeeper Adam Reid clipped Brad Carroll as the midfielder was first on to the rebound from Willoughby’s free kick. Referee Gareth Myers ignored the appeals.
Reid produced an outstanding double save to deny Brad Knox and Stephen Rigby in the 26th minute while, at the other end, Ashley Woods’s rising drive from Gareth Peet’s cross just cleared the crossbar.
Atherton should have been awarded a spot kick of their own early in the second half when Ryan Ellison tripped Gareth Peet but the referee adjudged the foul to have been committed outside the penalty area.
Alex Newby saw his effort cleared off the line with 20 minutes remaining while substitute George West threatened for the visitors with a fierce drive that flashed past the far post.
Charlie Russell lifted the ball over the bar from Newby’s cross as the Blues cranked up the pressure and Willoughby was just off-target from a set-piece.
With the game in the balance Atherton’s Iain Howard drew a fine save from Chris Thompson and as play swung again Newby glanced his header wide of the upright from substitute Adam Bolton’s delivery.
However, just as it seemed as though the fixture would finish goalless, Willoughby fired the ball past Reid from Bolton’s flick on in the second minute of time added on.
“We played well,” said Haworth. “We were probably the better team in a pretty even game. There wasn’t much in it but we created the better chances. Luckily enough we managed to take one of them right at the end.
“We don’t look like conceding either which is good and the result shows that the lads are going right to the end of games which is a good sign.
“We are turning a corner, we’re getting there. We are looking solid at the back so we’re staying in games and not chasing them by conceding soft goals.
“We’re getting that same kind of belief back that we had last season. That team spirit and togetherness is starting to reflect in our performances and results.
“It’s harmonious again and we look to have an edge about us.”