AFC Emley head into their big Toolstation Northern Counties East League clash at Pontefract Collieries tonight with boss Darren Hepworth insisting there is no pressure in being top of the First Division.
The Huddersfield side held onto the summit position with Saturday’s hard-earned 1-0 home over Shirebrook Town.
Now they visit a third-placed Pontefract side who will feature former Emley duo Dean Wharam and Aaron Joseph.
“We’re enjoying being top and long may it continue,” said Hepworth, who is plotting promotion to the Premier Division at the club’s ninth time of asking.
Hepworth is closing in on the fourth anniversary of his appointment as manager, with his side having finished eighth, 10th, seventh and eighth in the past four campaigns.
“We have been in this situation before only to fall away, so we will keep our feet firmly on the ground,” he added.
“But we have certainly developed as a team and become more resilient – that was our ninth clean sheet in 16 league games this season and in the past, it’s the sort of game we might well have lost – and hopefully the experience of recent years will pay off.”
Money remains tight at the Welfare Ground, but Hepworth is happy to follow a ‘build, not buy’ policy at the club who were formed in 2005.
“It’s about the next 20 years, not the next two,” he explained.
“We have put a lot of energy into building up our youth and development teams and that has borne fruit with players coming through to the firsts.
“There will always be bigger and richer clubs circling.
“But we certainly won’t stand in the way of any player who can go to a higher level.
“The flip side of that is that we have encouraged loyalty, and players come here knowing they will get a fair crack of the whip.”
While midfielder Tom Rose and defender Robbie Wadsworth have left to join Leeds-based divisional rivals Yorkshire Amateur, Hepworth has recruited playmaker Kurtis Noble from Ossett Albion and left-sided defender or midfielder Danny Claridge from Worksop Town.
“They are both great additions and I’m fairly happy with the balance and depth of the squad,” he added.
Meanwhile Hepworth hailled influential skipper Paul Sykes, who recently played his 900th senior match.
“He is a great leader on and off the pitch, and a key man at the club,” added Hepworth.
“It would be fantastic if we could win promotion this season and give him the chance to bow out on a high. But knowing Paul, he will decide to carry on in any case!”
Pontefract, managed by Duncan Bray, who played for the original Emley, clinched a fifth win in six league games on Saturday when they defeated Knaresborough Town 2-1 with Wharam on the scoresheet.
Emley are back on the road on Saturday, when they head to 13th-placed Selby Town.