STORKS boss Steve Wilkes insists he feels no animosity towards Runcorn Linnets ahead of Padiham’s game with his former employers on Saturday.
Wilkes replaced Steve Carragher at the helm of the Cheshire club in January 2008, guiding them to a mid-table finish in their inaugural season back in the top tier of the North West Counties Football League.
Despite the club’s owners tightening the purse strings in a bid to fund a move away from Wincham Park, where they ground-shared with Witton Albion, Wilkes continued to improve the Linnets’ fortunes. However, after an unbeaten start to the 2009/10 campaign, chairman Derek Greenwood relieved Wilkes of his managerial duties.
Paul McNally is now the man in the hot seat at the new Millbank Linnets Stadium, guiding the Linnets to a fifth place finish in the Premier Division last term. But they currently sit in 13th ahead of Saturday’s trip to the Arbories, kick-off 3 p.m., while Padiham are flying high, eight points ahead, in fifth.
“I got sacked from Runcorn Linnets two years ago but that’s history,” declared Wilkes. “People may say it’s a revenge match for me but that’s not the case. I’ve played them twice since with Ashton Athletic so all I’m concerned about is rectifying Saturday’s performance and getting the result we need. With the history between myself and the club I’m sure they’ll be up for it so it should be a good game. I’m looking forward to it.”
Wilkes added: “The season before last they moved back home after playing at Witton Albion. We started the campaign off with three draws and an FA Cup victory. I received a phone call off the chairman thinking he was going to offer me a better budget to work with but after a meeting I was driving home without a job because they wanted a local lad in charge. It hurt but there’s no animosity towards them from me.
“They were cost-cutting, saving money, all through my tenure because they wanted to move back home, yet we still improved each season. It came as a surprise but it’s water under the bridge and I’ve moved on now.”
Padiham, who are picking up an average of two points per game, could have moved within a point of league leaders Runcorn Town had they extended their impressive nine-game unbeaten run at home to Alsager Town at the weekend. However, two defensive lapses gifted Lee Wright and Tom Parkes the opportunity to cancel out Andrew Tinker’s opener for the Storks.
“We started off very well and should’ve been three or four goals up within the first half-an-hour but then we stopped playing,” Wilkes conceded. “They started to get on top and when we came out for the second half we never got going.
“We’ve been so good defensively recently so it was a shock to see them perform like they did. They were being clever, trying to play it across the area, when instead they should’ve been trying to clear their lines. We gave a penalty away and then in the final minute, as we’re chasing the game, we’ve lost the ball on the edge of our own box and conceded in the last minute.”
Wilkes added: “I’ve not slept since and everyone is baring the brunt of that defeat. I knew we were going to lose sooner or later but it was the manner of it that hurts. It could easily have been avoided. We were magnificent against Lancaster City but there goes the saying ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’.....
“I praised them before the fixture and they may have taken their eye off the ball, developed a bit of complacency, so I take some of the blame. If we’d have won the game I wouldn’t be saying that we’d win the league so after losing it I’m certainly not saying that we’re out of the chase.”
Padiham remain unbeaten on their travels, winning five and drawing one, and Wilkes is eager for his side to marry that record with form on home soil in a bid to make the Arbories a fortress.
“We’ve got some juicy games coming up now,” Wilkes said. “We’ll just have to look at going another nine games unbeaten now. We need to get back to doing the basics right starting with Runcorn Linnets tomorrow.
“Our home form has been a bit poor in context really because our away form has been great. At home we’ve won four, drawn four and lost twice yet away we’ve won five and drawn one. It’s usually the other way around. We’ve struggled slightly at home but we’ll dust ourselves down and go again.”