The feeling of relief overpowered that of ecstasy for Steve Wilkes after Padiham recorded their first win in 15 outings.
Not since October when the Storks beat Farsley AFC 3-1 at the Arbories had they experienced the comfort of winning a game in the Evo-Stik First Division North.
Wilkes conceded that it was the emptiest, most challenging three-month spell of his managerial career though he fully acknowledges that a solitary win hasn’t dragged the club out of the mire.
The Storks, in their second season of England’s eighth tier, are still cut adrift at the foot of the table. Prescot Cables, in a precarious position despite loitering in the safety net of 20th place, are nine points ahead with two games in hand and a vastly superior goal difference.
“The buzz word for me is ‘relief’,” said Wilkes following a 2-1 triumph over Radcliffe Borough. “It’s a massive relief because we only had nine points from 27 games. We weren’t even in double figures.
“We’re still 10 points from safety but we’ve given ourselves a chance now. It felt good to win again. People were tweeting me and sending text messages like we’d just won the FA Cup.
“It was all really nice, I loved the reaction and the messages I received, but at the end of the day it’s only three points, it was a first win in 15 and we’re still in trouble. We’ll just hope to turn these small steps in to bigger steps. We’re not getting carried away.”
Bobby Langford opened the scoring for the Storks after just two minutes before Mark Sharples doubled the advantage in the second half. Borough’s Sam Cook set up a tense finish when halving the deficit with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining.
“Funnily enough we didn’t play as well as what we had done previously,” Wilkes said. “We’ve got a bit of luck when they hit the crossbar and the post but that was down to two fantastic saves from our goalkeeper Ross Dalton, who we signed on a 28-day loan deal from Preston North End.
“We should’ve have been 4-0 up at half-time and those missed chances could’ve come back to haunt us. When Bobby Langford misses two one-on-ones you start to wonder but it was always going to get nervy because of the situation we’ve been in.”
Wilkes also praised assistant Steve Pickup for his contribution in recent weeks, after the former reserve team boss replaced Danny Craig as the club’s number two.
“Steve Pickup came in when Danny Craig left and I’ve got to give him a lot of credit for the job he’s done,” said Wilkes. “He had done fantastically well with the reserve team and he’s continued that.
“The players are much fitter now than they’ve been all season and we didn’t seem to tire at all in the last 15 minutes of the game. Players were throwing bodies in the way for the cause. He’s made an instant impact and brought new ideas in to the setup.”
He added: “Losing had become habitual, but we need to make winning a habit now. We’ve got that monkey off our backs now so hopefully we can go on a bit of a run and see what happens.”
A sense of nostalgia awaits Wilkes at the weekend as he takes his side to the Sir Tom Finney Stadium to take on Bamber Bridge.
Wilkes, who spent three years as a player with the Brig, played alongside opposition manager Neil Crowe for Padiham FC veterans at the weekend as a Lee Ashcroft hat-trick and a Graeme Atkinson strike earned a 4-1 win over Commercial Old Boys. Former Storks player Ian Pilkington netted the consolation.
“We’ve got Bamber Bridge on Saturday which will be tough but they’ve lost their last three games so maybe we’re catching them at the right time,” said Wilkes.
“Their manager (Neil Crowe) plays for my Padiham FC veterans team so we’ve had a bit of banter, until he pulled his hamstring in the sixth minute.
“I always look forward to going there because I had three good years with the club and they gave me my chance to get back in to football after injury.”