NORSTARCWEBNorstar manager Zack Gothelf pinpointed his side’s great team spirit as they secured promotion from Division Three on Sunday morning.

MGBSFL Division Three
Norstar Raiders C 2 Hendon United C 1
Sunday, 23 March, 2014

Needing to beat Hendon to guarantee promotion, they achieved the three points the hard way, as they fell behind to Alex Elf’s opportunistic finish midway through the first half.

However, Alex Goodman’s header, coupled with Nick Haringman’s finish 15 minutes from time, was enough to see them to the win which guarantees them Division Two football next season.

Speaking about what he felt were the key factors to his side’s success, he said: “There’s a great spirit amongst the squad which has been a major contributing factor. More importantly is that we have a squad who can play good, passing football. We’ve not really had lucky wins this season, we’ve deserved them all and have played the football deserving of victories.

“We additionally haven’t had one or two star players that we’ve relied on. We’ve got an extremely competitive squad, everyone knows that their place isn’t guaranteed. Our goals have been shared out amongst the squad, which is key at this level.”

Achieving their success with an unbeaten home record, he doesn’t believe their artificial surface has been that beneficial to them. He said: “The 3G debate seems to be rattling on. Playing on a 3G pitch, with no bobbles, puddles, slopes etc is how football should be played. Ultimately, teams who have footballers with football brains who like to get the ball on the deck and use the space, will play well on 3G pitches, in the same way that they’d play well on a perfect grass surface. So 3G has been a good advantage to us, but that’s because we play football rather than lumping the ball up on a grass pitch or surviving the longest in a mud bath of a pitch.

“Teams that complain about 3G pitches tend to be those who aren’t good footballing sides, but have big players who want to play on grass as a leveller. In my view playing on awful pitches isn’t what football’s all about. To have gone unbeaten at home in the league, only drawing one game is a great achievement and one we’re all delighted with.”

Going into the game under pressure, knowing what was at stake, Gothelf said: “We started slightly sluggishly, but that has been the case for a few games now. I think nerves were slightly on show, and certainly frustration got to some players after going a goal behind. Getting the equaliser five minutes before the break calmed a lot of nerves, we knew from then that we weren’t going to lose the game. I reminded the players at half-time to play the game rather than the occasion and that our fitness levels and footballing abilities would get us the three points we wanted.”

But believing they deserved the win on the day, he said: “We played well. We should have scored a lot more, but despite going a goal behind to a mistake, we were solid at the back and I don’t really remember Hendon having more than two or three shots. To be honest, we got a bit nervy after going one down but we got our confidence back and I never doubted that we’d secure the win.”

And knowing now that as a result of L’Equipe being held to a 1-1 draw by Loughton, they need just a point against Catford on Sunday to secure the title, he says they would be deserving champions should they finish the season top of the pile. “I feel we would be worthy champions,” he said. “I’ve said from day one that we’ve got the best squad in the division and that if we play our football to the best of our ability, we’ll win the league. Our initial aim was promotion, and we’re delighted now that it’s been achieved, but we’d love to win on Sunday and win the league.

“Additionally we’ve got a great attitude and disciplinary record. Our fans don’t go around swearing at referees or threatening other teams, which has happened to us this season. We’ve completely played most teams off the park this season and we’ve beaten every side in the league at least once this season – I think that says it all.”

Hendon player-manager Chaim Strom felt his side deserved at least a point from the game. He said: “We put in a good shift. We were better in the first half, them the second. The wind didn’t help in the second half but we didn’t deserve to lose, but fair play to them and we wish them luck in Division Two.

“I felt we deserved at least a point from the game. In our first game of the season we took the lead and squandered it late on to draw 1-1, and this time sloppy marking for both their goals gave them the win. Not to say our goal was especially great, but a draw would have been fairer.”

Reflecting back on his side’s season, with them still having two games to play, he said: “I’m disappointed. We had title aspirations and should have least achieved promotion. In all of our four draws, we were leading and that alone is eight points dropped.

“In this division there was little difference between the ability of our team and the top three. It is about belief and effort and we did not put in the shifts necessary and unnecessarily allowed our rivals to snatch cheap points from us. Next season it’s a top-three at the minimum.”