It would be easy for National League North club Salford City to wilt under the pressure they find themselves under as they target a third consecutive promotion.
The Ammies have been under serious media scrutiny thanks to their high-profile ‘Class of 92’ owners, ambitious plans for the future and the BBC documentary that is set for a third series.
The pressure, external pressure it must be added, is not showing.
In fact the Ammies seem to be revelling in it.
Their rise up the non-league pyramid has been well-documented and identifying a high-point is rather difficult.
The start point was their Evo-Stik NPL First Division North title win in 2014/15, secured after they managed to see off a determined challenge from Darlington.
The two sides battled once again in the Evo-Stik NPL’s top tier last season, with the Quakers taking the title this time and Salford securing promotion via the play-offs.
A thrilling 3-2 play-off final win over Workington ensured that the Ammies would compete at step two for the first time in their history.
When you throw in a headline-grabbing FA Cup run that took them to the Second Round of the competition in 2015/16 and the currently stadium redevelopment that is now underway, it’s safe to say that it is an exciting time for the club.
This weekend brought another high point.
Since the start of November the Ammies have lost only once in twelve league games, catapulting themselves into the National League North play-off places.
Ahead of Saturday’s home game against league leaders AFC Fylde, they sat twelve points behind the Coasters.
What followed was a surprise for many, including joint-manager Anthony Johnson.
A hat-trick from Ammies striker Jordan Hulme plus single strikes from Billy Priestley and Mike Phenix sealed a remarkable 5-0 win over the title favourites.
Johnson admitted that the result was a surprise, but revealed that his side were confident going into the game.
He said “We were really confident, and that’s not me being arrogant.
“Training has been good, we had beaten Nuneaton and FC United in recent weeks, so yes we were confident.
“What happened was beyond our wildest dreams to be honest, to took even us by surprise because you don’t expect to win games against a team like Fylde in that way”
One of the architects of Fylde’s downfall, and one of the success stories of Salford’s season, has been the form of striker Mike Phenix.
The former AFC Telford United and Stockport County forward joined the Ammies during the summer after a spell at Southport.
He came with Football League experience too, after a short stay at Barnsley.
Phenix has thirteen goals in twenty five appearances for the club so far, and on Saturday he grabbed the third of the five Ammies’ goals.
Johnson revealed that he had admired Phenix for a long time, describing him as a “beast”.
“Me and Bernard watched Mike for a few years. We wanted him at Ramsbottom but he was always out of reach and we knew he could go higher, which he did when he joined Barnsley.
“He was never seen as prolific but he has every attribute you could want in a striker. He is a beast.
“His attitude is unreal and we think he is a top player.
“He now has thirteen in twenty five so has a scoring rate of under one in every two games.
“If you take Danny Rowe out of the league he is right in amongst the top scorers and deserves to be. We are really happy to have him here”
The win over Fylde is the latest in a remarkable run of form, with many tipping the Ammies as possible title contenders now.
Despite their win, they remain nine points behind AFC Fylde and are level on points with Kidderminster Harriers, although the Midlands outfit do hold two games in hand on the two sides above them.
Johnson hopes that Saturday’s win will give his side the belief that they can catch the league leaders, and hope that it gives other clubs in the division the belief that the Coasters can be beaten.
“In my post-match interview with the club I said that sides believed they were beaten before they played Fylde” revealed Johnson.
“Maybe we have shown that you can have a go at them, because we do need them to drop points.
“They are not Chorley, you look at Fylde’s goals against column and it shows they can be got at.
“They are an attacking side and they look to take the game to you so you have to counteract that and try to keep Danny Rowe quiet, which is easier said than done by the way.
“I don’t see why we can’t catch Fylde, it won’t be easy but we have to believe we can.
“It’s the same for Chorley, Kidderminster Harriers, Darlington, Halifax Town, probably everyone in the league down to Tamworth.
“Now they won’t just be thinking about the play-offs”.
As he reems of the list of clubs that can challenge, Johnson’s mind is cast back to his days with Ramsbottom United and his early days at Salford.
In their time at Ramsbottom Johnson and fellow joint-manager Bernard Morley took the club from the North West Counties League into the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League, before leaving to join the Ammies in January 2015.
Johnson admitted that both he and Morley are still getting used to life in amongst some of non-league football’s biggest names.
“I was talking to Bernard after the game and we were looking at the table.
“It’s strange because obviously we started out at Ramsbottom and then came here when the club were in the Evo-Stik.
“You look at the top end of the table and there are a lot of ex-Football League clubs in there. Darlington, Halifax, Kidderminster, Stockport County, then there is Boston too.
“We are right in amongst all of that, we are mixing it with those sides. But we believe we are there on merit now”
Next up on the agenda for Johnson and his side is a trip to a Gloucester City side sat in tenth place in the National League North.
As his side approach the business end of the season Johnson believes that their habit of getting stronger as the season goes on will benefit them greatly.
“We have momentum and that is a big thing for us. We have a lot of confidence.
“We had our dark patch in October, but we have come out of it well. Some other clubs haven’t been able to do that. Teams like Harrogate Town had one and they are now in mid-table.
“We always seem to finish well and I am not sure why that is. Maybe it’s the change in the pitches, maybe it’s the fact that we have a fit and powerful squad.
“We are going in the right direction and the lads are starting to believe”.
Interview: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)
Images: Reuters Media (Action Images)