Storks boss Steve Wilkes believes his players will benefit from having to chase top spot in the Premier Division.
Wilkes felt his side’s performances were hindered by the pressure of being at the division’s summit, highlighted in defeats to Maine Road, Runcorn Linnets and AFC Liverpool all at the Arbories.
But since falling from their perch, Padiham have played with more freedom and less apprehension as they bid to secure promotion.
“There’s pressure on everybody at the top, we’ll all feel it, but maybe it won’t be as bad for us now that we’re not top,” Wilkes declared. “There’s young players at this club who have never been in this position so they’ll be affected. I could sense it a bit when we were top. When you’re up there it’s an easy team talk for the opposition manager and you get teams giving that extra 10 per cent.
“I think the players are a bit more relaxed now. You could see it in the performances against Silsden and Runcorn Linnets. They are determined to regain top spot. We certainly felt the pressure and we lost three games while we were top. But that’s wavered a bit and they’ve reacted brilliantly.”
With five games remaining the Storks are still well in the hunt for the title, embroiled in an intriguing battle with Maine Road, Bootle and Runcorn Town. The Storks face all three away from home and Wilkes knows they’ll have to come out on top in each to stand a chance of lifting the championship trophy.
“It’s a strange situation,” said Wilkes. “In a way I still feel that the title is in our own hands. If we win all our remaining fixtures we’ll be promoted. If we can beat all the top clubs then we’ll be doing ourselves a huge favour. They’ve all got to play each other as well so it’ll still change at the top.
“It was a funny atmosphere in the dressing room after the Runcorn Linnets game. It was a decent draw but when you see that the teams around you have won it doesn’t seem as good a result.”
And now that the club has the stadia and facilities to compliment a step up the football ladder Wilkes is determined not to let anybody down.
“We’ve had a great season so we don’t want it to end now,” he said. “Alan Smith has done a fantastic job with the ground, we’ve passed the ground grading, so it’s up to scratch now for us to go up to the next level. We’ve got to do our bit on the pitch now and repay his faith because he’s done a superb job.”