Ilkeston Town boss Lee Fowler has paid tribute to his players and coaching staff after the Robins won the MFL Premier Division title on Saturday.
The 8-1 win at Loughborough University (READ THE REPORT HERE) saw Ilkeston take the honours on goal difference from Walsall Wood at the end of a season which has seen the Robins change manager twice.
And in revelling in the Robins' title glory, Fowler paid tribute to runners-up Walsall Wood, who only a week ago had beaten them 4-0 at the New Manor Ground, as well as outlining his desire to remain at the club for next season
He said: "I knew the lads would respond the way they did. I’m proud of them – they’ve done it the hard way.
“I thank Walsall Wood for pushing us. They’re a good team who do things right and if you do things right and work hard, which I think their manager Darren Byfield has done, then they push you all the way because they make me work hard too.
“I’d done my homework on Loughborough and we knew where their weak links were and we exploited them.
“But like ourselves, Darren Byfield does his research too and it’s not that common at this level sometimes, which is why we’re the two best teams in the league.
“We responded well to last week. Walsall Wood had outplayed us, out fought us, and as players and their coach they beat us that day. I’ll never throw my players under the bus, all I can do is praise the opposition because they deserved it.
“But this group of players we have here don’t know when they’re beaten. The story of the season has been that they always bounce back."
Fowler is the third manager to be at the Robins' helm this season, following on from Steve Chettle and Martin McIntosh, having taken over at Christmas and initially struggled for form.
But once results picked up, Fowler's men continued the charge for the title and although it was a close run thing, the Welshman was proud of what had been achieved.
He said: “Me being the third manager they'd had was difficult for the group, less so for me as I’m a big character and I know what I’m about as a person and I knew they’d buy into me and how I operate as a person which is important.
“The players deserve huge credit. To have three different managers is one thing but I’m lucky to have had a coaching staff who have been there consistently for them for two years.
“I have to give Deaks (assistant manager Ian Deakin) a massive, massive pat on the back because he’s been through a lot on a personal level and has still been at the games. He nearly got the job but then I came in and it was difficult for him but he’s always been there for me and always backing me, and the lads can see him over the last couple of years as being the consistent factor and that’s helped me no end, as well as having Martin Lench and Craig Swinscoe too."
As for the future, Fowler says that after enjoying the celebrations from the title he will be sitting down with Ilkeston's chairman and owner, Alan Hardy, to discuss what happens next.
He said: "I haven’t got a clue what’s happening with the club, to be honest. I need to sit down with Alan and discuss what’s happening as I don’t want to go into the next league and stagnate. I’m an ambitious person and this has been great for my CV – I’ve got a good name in football and I enjoy being at this club.
“Some people within the club doubted me which drove me on but I now need to sit down with the club and see where they want to go because I’ve got some very, very talented football players here and if I can build my own team, style of play and ethics then this club can be successful again but I have to be backed and given the chance to rebuild this club.”
Ilkeston will play in the Evo-Stik Division One East next season alongside the likes of Belper Town, Worksop Town, Stamford and Carlton Town.