Manager Ricky Marheineke presents a strong case for the St Ives Town defence

Luke Knight is seen scoring the only goal for St Ives in their victory against Northwood. Picture: L

Luke Knight is seen scoring the only goal for St Ives in their victory against Northwood. Picture: LOUISE THOMPSON - Credit: Archant

St Ives Town are building their promotion challenge on the firmest of foundations.

Ricky Marheineke’s men closed to within three points of the Southern League Division One (Central) summit last Saturday when claiming a 1-0 success against Northwood at ProEdge Westwood Road.

Skipper Luke Knight struck the only goal in the first half to earn a victory which came complete with a 15th clean sheet of the season.

Fourth-placed Saints boast the best defensive record in their division – they have conceded just 29 goals in 35 league games – and it is the product of intensive work on the training pitch.

Marheineke said: “As far as I’m concerned, any success in football is built on clean sheets and that is why we do lots of work on our defensive shape.

“Up until Christmas it was something we worked on in every training session.

“We’ve had to focus on our attacking play since then as we weren’t scoring enough goals, but we’ve retained that discipline and solidity at the back.

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“Last season our defending was a joke at times and it needed to be put right.

“I think I’m right in saying we conceded more than 20 goals in one month early on last season whereas we are still in the 20s now after 35 games. That highlights the improvement.”

Saints have only conceded more than two goals in a league game on one occasion this season – that was a 3-0 defeat at the hands of title rivals Royston back in August.

They have managed three clean sheets during a current run of five matches without defeat – the latest of those arriving last Saturday against a Northwood side desperately trying to claw their way into the play-off picture.

But it wasn’t just the defending that attracted high praise from Marheineke – the backing of the club’s fans also earned his plaudits.

He added: “Our supporters are renowned in non-league football, but they were particularly brilliant last Saturday.

“There were 289 people at the game and they made it sound like double that number.

“It is such a boost to the players to have that sort of backing, and it is a big reason why we find ourselves fourth in the table.”

Saints will need the support again this Saturday when entertain Chalfont St Peter ahead of an Easter Monday visit to Bedford.

A victory against Chalfont would almost certainly knock the visitors out of play-off contention while Saints will be keen to triumph at Bedford having been held by them on home turf back in January.

Midfielder Jack Higgs will miss both Easter matches with an ankle injury.