Oxenhope Recreation manager James Bailey is confident his side can pull farther away from the bottom two as they enter a run of fixtures he describes as ‘very winnable’.
His side are on a three-match unbeaten run in the league having opened up a seven-point gap on the bottom two with Saturday’s gutsy 2-1 win over mid table Knaresborough Town.
“It was very close and, in truth, Knaresborough were probably slightly better on the day,” admitted Bailey, “but we worked hard and took our chances when they came. The last few minutes we really clung on and got the result, it was the first game back after Christmas and you could tell we were tired.”
Having gone behind to an early Paul Atkinson penalty, Joe Jalil levelled up on 40 minutes before skipper Lewis Hopkinson bagged the winner to set up a nervy last 10 minutes.
“They are a very fit, young side and they were absolutely relentless, but we defended very well and managed to keep them at bay,” added Bailey.
A controversial change in selection policy has seen those able to train given precedence in the first team, and Bailey sees this recent run of form as vindication for the philosophy he wants to put in place.
“The change in policy ruffled a few feathers at the club, and when the results weren’t coming in the pressure was definitely on,” he admitted.
“Before I came in we had a situation where we had most of the lads not training, and there were plenty of youngsters training and working hard that weren’t being given a chance. I decided we might have to take a step back to move forward and give these guys an opportunity.
“Saturday was a huge result for us and things are starting to come together. We all knew what this season was going to be about and we’ve got ourselves into a position where we are unbeaten for a little while.
“We’re on a learning curve. At the start of the season we would’ve thrown that away, but the team has settled down and benefited from that extra half-season of experience. It’s all down to pure hard work.”
Having turned their form around in what has been a difficult season so far, Bailey has demanded nine points from 14th-placed Oxenhope’s next four fixtures to set themselves up for a comfortable mid-table finish.
“I’m not really too worried about our position. We’re confident of continuing this run we’re on over the next few weeks and, in my eyes, we’ve got some very winnable games coming up.
“We’ve got Pool next week, who are obviously doing well, but I’ve told the players I want three points from that game. We’ve got lots of games left and we’ve managed to get ourselves on the right track.
“With so many teams so close together, if we keep this momentum, we can really shoot ourselves up the league (table). I’ll be happy with a ninth-place finish.”
Elsewhere, Oxenhope’s fellow strugglers Ilkley Town continued their own resurgence in fortunes as they came from behind to earn a 3-1 win at Headingley. The theme was not continued by bottom side Wetherby Athletic who themselves went ahead only to be overcome 2-1 by high-flying Pool. Fourth-placed Field won 3-2 at Shelley.
In Division One, Hall Green United gave up their vice grip of top spot as they drew 0-0 with ninth-placed Aberford Albion. They were leapfrogged by Hartshead, who hammered Wyke Wanderers 5-1. Hall Green have four games in hand.
Free-scoring Leeds Modernians beat Featherstone Colliery 4-2 to record their fifth win in six, whilst Kippax kept their promotion charge on track with an impressive 4-1 win at Howden Clough.
Bottom side Otley Town offered no new-year redemption as they went down 2-0 to Old Centralians, whilst East End Park and Whitkirk Wanderers played out a goalless draw.
Rawdon Old Boys’ 100 per cent record in Division Three came crashing to a halt as they were beaten 4-2 by Nostell MW. The result raises AFC Horsforth’s title hopes as they hammered Ossett Albion 8-3 to draw level in points. Rawdon have two games in hand.
Altofts beat Ripon 4-2, Garforth overcame Middleton Park 5-3 and Rothwell put seven unanswered goals past Kellingley Welfare.