Nortel manager Paul Foy is only too aware of the importance of their forthcoming top-of-the table clash with Ards Rangers. The only problem is, he feels his players may be too.
The Monkstown Avenue supremo admits his team have surpassed his expectations for this season, having already surpassed their entire points total for the entire previous campaign with ten games still to go.
Better still, if they manage to score a home in this Saturday’s six-pointer, they would leapfrog Premier Division leaders Rangers and – depending on second placed Drumaness’ result against Dromara – could well move into pole position with two games in hand over the current front-runners.
Nevertheless, even if they do surge ahead, Foy refuses to engage in title talk at this point and feels that they need to be more realistic in their aspirations. At a time when even the top managers in the English game are hesitant to talk up their teams’ title chances, perhaps that is hardly surprising.
Foy warned: “This game against Ards Rangers is going to be massive. My players will know that, and that’s what worries me.
“As we get to the last seven or eight matches, they’ll start to think about what’s at stake, and it might start playing on their mind. The nerves kick in at the business end of the season. That’s just youthfulness for you, but you have to take each game as it comes.
“I don’t think we have the experience to win it… but I do think top four would be an amazing achievement. We were all laughing about it last week – I know a few people had written us off as being in a ‘false position’ when we were up around the top over the first few weeks of the season, and were saying we would go down.”
Despite a successful history in the Premier Division, Nortel have been more accustomed to fighting it out at the wrong end of the table over the past few seasons. Yet any suggestion of them being involved in a relegation battle this season was well and truly blown out of the water before Christmas.
They may have suffered something of a mid-term blip in and around the seasonal period with three defeats in four league games, but any impact that might have been felt from that spell was cushioned by their run of three wins in four at the start of the campaign.
Kicking things off, interestingly, was their trip to Ards Rangers, which the visitors won 2-1, and since then – blip aside – Nortel have gone from strength to strength.
Explaining what he believes has been the secret to their success so far, Foy insisted: “It isn’t all down to the manager, in the way that some people make it out to be.
“It is easier for the likes of Ards Rangers to attract players because of what they have to offer, but most of the players come to us because they enjoy our training, and I have a lot to thank my coaching staff of John McMinn, Ross and Ian Oliver, Sid Thompson and Simon Boyce for.
“Our skipper Andrew Simpson has been exceptional , Ryan Cardwell has been immense since he was released by Ballyclare, and our goalkeeper Stevie Murray has been brilliant for us this year too. The big fella is only 21, but he should be playing at a higher level.”
It will be interesting to see exactly where Nortel do finish up this season, but it’s clear they have the foundations to ensure wherever that may be, that this year will not simply be a one-season wonder.