As the Rothbury squad were filing out of the dressing rooms to line up on the pitch, manager Dan Herron simply asked them to go out and show everyone why they were top of the league – and they delivered in some style.
The Reds ripped second-placed Whitley Bay SC apart with a first-half bombardment that has opened them up a three-point gap at the top, while the Coquetdalers’ convincing victory could have had a higher margin as they also slapped the ball off the woodwork on three separate occasions and could afford the luxury of missing a penalty.
Midfield ace Tony Brown could only grimace as he missed the target with his 15th-minute spot-kick – but he showed nerves of steel to step up coolly to roll a second one to the keeper’s left as he guessed wrong for the fifth goal in the 93rd minute.
“It was an absolutely massive result for us,” beamed Herron afterwards.
“We were immense in the first half. It’s one of the most important results since I’ve ran the team, for sure. Tom Macpherson was huge at the back, especially in the second half, while Greg Woodburn and Kyle Smith both had great games for us too. To be fair, the whole squad delivered for us.”
Birthday boy Gareth McCann’s 26th celebrations got off to an early start as he took just three minutes to get himself on the scoresheet with the opener, rising to head home an in-swinging Brown corner.
Although the ex-Alnwick Town man saw his spot-kick fly wide after the keeper had brought down Michael Old, the Hillmen had to wait just two more minutes for the second when James Loughborough made a great run from deep and was played in by Woodburn to knock it into the corner of the net.
Brown was celebrating himself in the 25th minute as his dangerous free-kick went through a crowd of players and straight in, while Dan Thompson’s mazy run and neat finish made it four just a couple of minutes later in a breathless opening period.
“The lads were buzzing after the game, and it does give them confidence, but we’re taking nothing for granted,” warned Herron.
“We’ve got a very difficult trip away to Willington Quay Saints up next, and there’s no easy game in the Alliance so we really have to be on it if we want promotion. All in all it was a big result and another three points on the board.”
Playmaker James Jackson knows just how important the experience of the senior players in the side can be in the run-in and said: “I think the best way we’ve kept the other lads’ feet on the ground is through knuckling down and performing ourselves and the younger lads are thriving off it.
“The game was over after 20 minutes in reality and we deserved to be 4-0 up at half-time. We were superb. James Loughborough has been excellent this past month and I was over the moon to see him grab a goal.
“Everyone knows Tony Brown’s talents and it was another routine display from him with a couple of goals and a few assists – all bread and butter to that lad. Tom Macpherson was outstanding again – anyone could have played alongside him.”
“Gar is in amazing form. I don’t celebrate his first goals in games anymore because it’s as common as a day ending in Y. He’s an amazing bloke and has really driven us through a tough patch which we are coming out the back end off, hopefully with the league title!
“It’s an amazing achievement to be nearly grabbing promotion at first attempt but we need to get the job done. However, this is a club that’s had years of history, maybe not at this level, but I think we’ve got the attention of the locals and it’s clicking. There was another amazing crowd and we, the players, can’t thank those that come along enough.”
“It’s amazing to turn around after another McCann wondergoal and look up at the hill to see the crowd cheering. We are a community club, we don’t do this for money, we do it for one another and if people are enjoying coming along to support that’s even better.”
Jackson was keen to send out a special message to his team-mate Kyle Smith who also celebrated his birthday the day after the game, and said: “The lad has had a crazy month and yet he’s there at every training session and every game and gives 1000%. We don’t have to keep anyone on the ground really, we are all in it together.”