A jubilant Sam Winnall praised his team-mates after they finished the season by drawing 2-2 with York at Glanford Park.With promotion already sealed, some may be forgiven for thinking the Iron would have taken their foot off the gas. But, with the title still within our sights, it was all to play for.
“It was a game of two halves; first-half we were cruising, playing some really good stuff and conceding on half-time was a big of a killer,” Winnall told The Iron Player after celebrations on the pitch and in the directors’ box.
“They managed to get themselves back into the game in the second-half. It was all about us going out with a decent performance having sealed promotion and I think we did that today and we showed we can play good stuff on our day.”
With Chesterfield trailing and Rochdale drawing at the interval, shouts of ‘We are top of the League’ came from the Iron faithful and Winnall and his colleagues were well aware of goings on elsewhere.
He said: “We knew at half-time that things were going in our favour, with other teams around us losing, but it would have been a lot to ask for both sides to drop points.
“Congratulations to Chesterfield, they’ve done well this season, so well done for them for winning the league."
The league’s top scorer felt the weight of promotion was off the players’ shoulders against the Minstermen, which helped them get off to a flying start, going into a 2-0 lead.
He stated: “You could see in the first-half that we played with freedom and we passed the ball as well as we have all season in that period. It was a decent result in the end having already sealed next season’s fate and we were pleased with that.”
Having missed out on the winners’ trophy, Russ Wilcox’s men can hold their heads high as the table shows they are one of the best sides in SkyBet League Two this season.
He said: “Promotion was the aim and our squad at the start of the season showed we had the potential to do it and we’ve achieved what we set our to do and it’s been good to pay the fans back.”
In storming to a return to League One, the Claret and Blue have gone on an incredible run under Wilcox, going unbeaten in his first 28 games as manager and Winnall feels there is one special ingredient to bringing success to this squad.
“Togetherness as a squad and management staff has been key and we always believed in ourselves and stuck together without letting anybody else’s opinions affect us," he said.
“We’ve stayed confident and always believed we’d get over that line.”
The run under Wilcox, which totalled one defeat in 30 matches since he took over from Brian Laws, is something Winnall and his team-mates will remember for a long time.
“If you look at the runs other teams in the division have been on, not many have been close to what we did," he continued.
“York have done well and credit to them for their end of season run, but to go 28 games without losing is something special and if you do that in a season, you’re always going to be putting yourself in a promising position.
“This was my first real season and it’s ended in promotion, so it’s definitely something I’ll cherish for the rest of my career, it’s fantastic.”
Winnall is already looking forward to being a League One player, having played a key part in our return, scoring 23 times in the league to be six clear of Scott Hogan of Rochdale in the top scorers’ chart.
“We’re well up for next season and preparation starts now. We have a nice summer break, so we’ll enjoy ourselves, relax and recharge our batteries for the new season, raring to go," he said.
“We’ll look at targets when we meet up for pre-season but we’ll get a good idea after the first game and hopefully we’ll be up there battling for promotion and not relegation.”
Having avoided the lottery which is the play-offs, Winnall is tipping one of the outsiders for Wembley success.
He said: “I was impressed with York, they played some good stuff but I’m tipping Southend to win the play-offs. They have real potential to go and win it. I’m just glad we are not in it, there’s four really strong sides in there and best of luck to all of them.”