Padiham FC boss Steve Wilkes was full of praise for his one-time Preston North End team-mate Lee Ashcroft as the Storks moved to within six points of determining their Evo-Stik First Division North survival.
The 41-year-old, who had two separate spells with the Lilywhites at Deepdale, beat the transfer deadline to join the Storks on loan until the end of the season, and starred as a second half substitute in a 3-2 win over relegation rivals New Mills.
The former Kendal Town and Northwich Victoria boss, who won a single cap for England Under 21s in a 2-2 draw with Hungary in Budapest in 1992, had a combined total of £1.25 million spent on him in transfer fees during a career that saw him represent seven Football League clubs.
Wilkes, who played alongside Ashcroft at Preston under manager John McGrath, said: “I’ve known Ashy for a long time; we’ve been friends for years.
“We ran a kids team together for about five years and he offered me the assistant managers post at Kendal when he was appointed there.
“I was also the first person he spoke to about the Northwich Victoria vacancy. We’ve always kept in touch.
“Unfortunately he got sacked, but he’s been ticking over while playing for Fulwood Amateurs in the West Lancs League. He’s now become the club’s first million pound footballer!
“I asked him to come and help me out until the end of the season, and so far, so good.
“Michael Morrison picked up an injury with 25 minutes left at the weekend so I threw him on at 2-1 down.
“I’d like to think it was an inspirational, match-winning change. He was involved in the second goal and then used his experience by pinning the keeper to his line for our winner from a corner.
“He was brilliant and he’s still got it. He just kept hold of the ball for us and played everything simple.”
Wilkes, who also added Blackpool teenagers Mitchell Clayton and Kieran Shaw to his Arbories ranks before the deadline, lavished praise on match winner Luke Greaves as well after the 18-year-old Accrington Stanley loanee grabbed a late winner at Church Lane.
“Luke has been absolutely fantastic and he’s really come of age,” Wilkes said.
“He came to us as a boy and he’ll be leaving us as a man.
“That’s how much he’s improved. He’s been brilliant since arriving here. I was delighted for him to get the winner.
“I can’t thank James Beattie enough because he’s brilliant with us. We always e-mail him to let him know how Luke has been getting on, and he’s been very appreciative.”
That triumph over New Mills - only Padiham’s second win since Boxing Day - has now lifted some of the gloom that’s been hanging over the club in recent weeks.
Now, ahead of tomorrow’s game with mid-table Cammell Laird, kick-off 3 p.m., Wilkes is hoping to take an even bigger leap towards safety.
“We’ve got Cammell Laird coming up and they were beaten by Ossett Albion at the weekend,” he said.
“They don’t have anything to play for so they might have thrown the towel in. If we play like we have been doing we should be okay.
“It’s now a case of making us mathematically safe.
“It’s a great feeling to win again though and it’s the best I’ve felt all season.
“I was pleased for the players because they’ve worked so hard and they deserve it.
“Their attitude and desire has been exemplary. It just opens up that cushion for us.”
Wilkes added: “Two wins from our last six games will guarantee us safety.
“That’s well within our reach now, especially on the back of the character that the lads showed at weekend.
“On the back of a poor run and surrendering a lead many teams would’ve folded, but we did the opposite.
“It takes the pressure off and there’s a much better mood in the dressing room now.
“The players deserve another opportunity to play at this level next season.”