Gaz McCann’s cheeky penalty finish took Rothbury to within five points of the Second Division championship at the first attempt – with five games remaining.
Put simply, if the Coquetdalers can beat Seaton Sluice at Armstrong Park on Saturday, just a point against title rivals Blyth FC the weekend after, assuming that the Amateur Cup winners take maximum returns from their two games during that time, would see them lift the silverware on home turf.
McCann displayed ice-cool nerves with just 12 minutes to go as he jogged up and dinked his spot-kick confidently down the middle with the keeper diving to his left and looking on despairing from the deck as it rippled the net.
“It was never in doubt,” said McCann. “I never thought I would miss – it’s just something I do. I have had goal runs in the past but this is the most important one of my career,” he admitted, after notching for the tenth time in nine games to stretch the Red’s amazing unbeaten run to 24 matches.
“I think we have shown great character this year with it being the first time Rothbury have been in the Alliance League. We all just love to play football - we just have to win all our games left and bring the trophy back home.”
Rothbury had to do it the hard way as they went behind at the basement side just a minute after the break as Sam Hall shot home.
But the Reds produced the perfect response and hit back almost instantly with Michael Old flinging himself into a spectacular scorpion kick to restore parity, while McCann’s late confidence from 12 yards put the Coquet men within touching distance of the finish line.
To put things into context, Rothbury, who were formed in 1876 and embraced the Association game in 1881, won their first trophy in 1935/36 when they were North Northumberland League champions.
They did it again in 37/38. An impressive haul of silver during the club’s most successful period in the 1970s saw them apply unsuccessfully to join the Northern Alliance. When they took the NNL title in 2009/10 it was their first League win since 1984/85, though they did enjoy a good number of Cup successes.
The Hillmen were in a difficult position two years ago when manager Dan Herron and coach Tom Macpherson stepped up to steady the ship, and if the club can take Alliance honours in their first season it would prove a massive moment in the long and proud history of the Armstrong Park side.
The weight of all that football heritage isn’t lost on gaffer Herron, who has respectfully avoided mentioning the ‘Championship’ word all season and has sensibly taken it one game at a time – a trait that he is determined to continue with in the exciting run-in. If Rothbury do win the League, they’ll have done it with some class as the boss was very complimentary of the opposition once again.
“Burradon came flying out the blocks in the first 15/20 minutes, and had a real good go at us,” he said. “They were set up well and had good trigger points for the press - luckily we’ve got such a solid back three to deal with the pressure early on.”
“Fair play to Burradon - you can see why they’ve taken points from the top six teams in the last five weeks.
“We’re really just taking it game by game now, and can’t take anything for granted.”