Simon Garner believes the Blues are portraying all the mannerisms of becoming one of the division’s leading contenders.
The midfielder, in his first season of management, shaped that impression after watching his players contend with the physicality of title-chasing Darlington 1883 in a 2-1 win at Shawbridge.
Despite going down to 10 men against the Evo-Stik First Division favourites, with Roberto Bonaminio dismissed with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, a Daniel Brady strike and Sefton Gonzales’ spot kick reversed David Dowson’s early opener.
After adding the scalp of the Quakers to that of Salford City and Northwich Victoria, who make up the top three, Garner said: “They are a good team and they’ll be there or thereabouts. They’re the favourites to win the league with their games in hand.
“It was a great result but the manner of it was also superb. They are a big side and they tried to intimidate us and bully us but we stood up to it.
“We were superb after conceding early on and we fully deserved to win, even with 10 men. I’m made up with the performance. The players showed another side to their game as well when coping with the physical battle.”
The hosts, playing in front of their biggest crowd of the season of 538, even overcame absences to beat Martin Gray’s men.
Skipper David Lynch was suspended, Cory Bent and Joey Mullen had been recalled by AFC Fylde, Zack Dale dropped to the bench after picking up a knock while Jay Hart remained sidelined with a broken toe.
“I’m really happy with the squad and at the weekend we showed our depth,” said Garner. “We were missing some key players.
“I’ve got a great bunch of lads who have mixed really well. There’s a lot of positives at the moment and that’s how I want to keep it.”
However, Clitheroe’s inconsistency has foiled any attempt to rub shoulders with the division’s elite at the top end of the table.
The Blues fell to Warrington Town midweek despite leading through captain Lynch’s 12th minute strike. But the hosts hit back as Steven Tames’ strike was sandwiched in-between a Nathan Burke brace to make it 3-1.
Gonzales responded on the stroke of half-time as his thunderous header cannoned in off the underside of the bar but within seconds James McCarten made it 4-2.
Garner added: “We’ve beaten most of the teams in the top eight which is fantastic but frustrating at the same time. We should be in there among them but our inconsistency has cost us.
“Maybe the lads raise their game against the big sides because they keep showing that they can compete with them.”
The Blues now travel to the Brewery Field on Saturday to tackle Spennymoor Town, a fixture that Garner will approach with caution.
“It’s a big month for us,” he said. “It’s going to be tough but the result against Darlington will give us a lot of confidence. Spennymoor are another top team and are sixth with games in hand. We haven’t played them this season but we know it’s going to be another tough test.
“I might need to be cautious with my players because the final is on Monday. I need to be wary about injuries and suspensions so I’ll have to manage it the best I can.”