Marine boss Neil Young has hailed his side’s achievement as they sealed promotion to the Northern Premier League with a win over Runcorn Linnets.
Jack Dunn’s header late on secured their route into the higher division after their top goalscorer Neil Kengni cancelled out Ryan Brooke’s first-half opener.
Marine‘s season has been ravaged by injury and on the eve of their final match of the regular season they were hit with a three-point deduction which saw them rooted to the final playoff spot.
Young’s side had to overcome Workington AFC, who were held on the final day and handed Warrington Rylands the title, in 120 minutes thanks to Kengni’s treble.
He told Off The Park: “We went a goal down early doors which wasn’t the plan. We talked about their set-pieces, we showed the lads their set-pieces but they’re good at it, Brooke’s good in the air – he scores 1-0.
“For the most part, without creating a lot, we were the better team, on the front foot for the rest of the first half, we’ve hit the post. I’ve been in this position before with Colwyn Bay, got into the playoffs, the key thing is once you’ve got in the playoffs – I know people have looked at our results in recent weeks, we know how many injuries we’ve had but the key thing is I’m not bothered about who we’re playing or where we go, the semi-final and final is about keeping your key players fit.
“You know how many injuries we’ve had and how testing it’s been, we’ve been managing minutes making sure lads who’ve had muscle injuries aren’t overplayed, just to make sure when the semi-final/final come round we give ourselves the best chance of winning and it was no different Saturday, I had scenarios in my head if this happened if that happened, I made the decision at 1-0 that I was going to be bold in my decisions and get after them.
“Second half, we were good, once we made the substitutions it was the extra momentum, once we scored I think there was going to be one winner.
“As a manager, you’d like to go and win the game without coming from behind and the stress that brings. But I think we showed on Tuesday night at Workington and Saturday, the team spirit we’ve got, we got unfairly judged on performances, we’ve got always got that in our locker, you can’t play football without players it’s a simple as that and that’s how it’s been.
“We’ve asked lads to play lots of positions, out of position, particular in defence, had to play three a lot because we haven’t been big enough or had centre-backs available to us. The lads who’ve gone in there have done tremendous but there’s only so long that can last and some games you’re going to get beat.
“That’s where we’ve been, I’ve said on numerous occasions you can’t lose a back four at this level and be able to replace it with a similar back four. The lads who’ve gone in there have done a tremendous job and I think the spirit and the unity of the squad has been shown over this last week.”
Saturday’s win means it’s six promotions in 11 seasons during his managerial career and for the manager – in his fourth year in charge – it’s one he ranks highly, he added: “It’s up there, it has to be (with previous promotions) I don’t think anyone can understand the work we’ve had to do since Christmas, probably before then, where we lost David Raven, on the back of Miley, Josh being out for most of the season and Joycey, Danny Shaw was injured at the time, Kyle Hayde was recalled – very testing times.
“People forget, we put in a lot of work from an analysis perspective, in the last 18 months I’ve played something like 25 FA cup competitions whether it be the FA Trophy or Cup, some real big games and that takes it out of you. We’ve played 52 games this season which is a silly amount of football but that’s what comes with success.
“In terms of myself it’s up there I think I’ve had six promotions in 11 seasons, third round of the FA Cup, took Wrexham to the brink this year, very proud of what we’ve achieved. It’s up there with some of the other promotions I’ve got in different ways when I got promoted with Colwyn Bay (played) Curzon Ashton and Lancaster, for me it would’ve been unthinkable doing this but 11 seasons, six promotions is something I’m very proud of.
“People might say it’s easy to say now you’ve won it but you can ask my staff, I’ve been planning for this for five or six weeks, we were struggling and I don’t think people realised how badly we were struggling injury-wise,” Young revealed on his thought-process going into the final run. “Once the league was not a possibility, my plans was get in the playoffs, secure our place and if you look for three or four weeks I’ve been managing the team making sure the Doyle’s, Clark’s, the lads who’ve had hamstring injuries have had enough time to get themselves fit but also enough time to protect their injuries and train with the Joe White’s of this world, Josh Solomon-Davis who’s been out because I knew we were going to need the whole squad fit and healthy.
“They might not have had enough game time but it was key. The decisions we made just before the window closed and bringing in Clark, Dunn and Kielen Adams has paid off for us.”
With Northern Premier League football secured and now a step away from the National League, Young wants this time before the start of next season to be used to cherish and appreciate the triumph that they have just achieved.
He declared: “Not considered next season as of yet, I think we’ve only just got promoted it’s been a hard slog. Reflect is the big thing for me, don’t get too excited, I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved absolutely.
“But I think it’s time everyone at the football club and more importantly the players celebrate this moment. I find in life people move on very quickly, I said to the players on Saturday ‘enjoy it, this doesn’t always happen,’ I’ve been very lucky to be involved in six promotions and you have plenty of dark and bad days in football but you have to enjoy your good days because you don’t know when the next one will be.
“Now, everybody enjoys the hard work they’ve put in over the last nine months that’s players, committee, management staff, more importantly the fans and supporters. To be a Marine fan over the last 18 months, I know elements of it have been in COVID and the FA Cup, from a non-league perspective it’s been unbelievable from where the football club was three years ago to where it is today.”
[Featured image: Karl Dunkerley]