Ricky Marheineke hailed the work ethic of his St Ives Town players after they sealed their place in the Southern League Division One (Central) play-offs last night.
Saints eased to a 2-0 success at Aylesbury – the only who could have denied them a top-five finish – in their penultimate match of their finest-ever season to earn a crack at promotion to Step 3 for the first time in their history.
Andrew Phillips fired them ahead in the 20th minute before substitute Danny Watson hit a clincher deep into second-half stoppage time.
It was a result which allowed Saints to climb back into fourth position – the highest place they can now occupy. They could also finish fifth.
It means they are guaranteed to be away in a one-legged play-off semi-final next Tuesday (April 26) to the team finishing either second or third.
Marheineke said: “We were outstanding in the first half last night and could count ourselves unfortunate not to be further ahead by the break.
“We expected to find ourselves under pressure in the second half, but we dealt with it by being structured and disciplined while looking dangerous on the counter-attack.
“We missed a few opportunities to kill the game off before eventually managing to get the second goal late on.
“We’ve been inside the top five for the vast majority of the season and it feels great to have cemented our place in the play-offs.
“The lads certainly deserve it and I’m delighted the huge amount of hard work they have put in has been rewarded.
“We know we’ll be on the road and that’s not a concern as our away form has probably been better than what we’ve produced at home.
“It looks like we’ll be going to Egham or Royston and we know we’ll come up against quality opposition either way.”
Influential defender Steven Gentle returned from a three-match suspension last night at Aylesbury, but Saints suffered a potential injury blow when captain Luke Knight was forced off with a hamstring problem.
Saints go to bottom side North Greenford for their final game of the regular season this Saturday ahead of their semi-final test on Tuesday.
Full-back Scott Sinclair and midfielder Jared Cunniff are suspended for both of those matches with Cunniff also banned for the play-off final on Monday, May 2 should Saints advance that far.