Paul Arnold revealed his Preston Grasshoppers team found the challenge of winning the North Premier league title a lot harder than it looked.
Hoppers returned to the National League Division Two North at the first time of asking after winning 23 of their 26 league fixtures and losing only two.
However, the men from Lightfoot Lane did not have things all their own way and many games were tight affairs.
“I think the fans said at the start of the season that they wanted to bounce straight back and we did. We wanted promotion and in that respect it’s job done, but it was a lot harder than I thought it would be and that’s because there are a lot of good teams in the North Premier.
“The pressure being the favourites every week was also tough.
“I think it was the team spirit which was got us through games which we could have lost.
“There is a great team spirit at the club. It’s the best that I have ever known at any club that I have been at. It’s a real tight bunch.”
While Hoppers’ season has finished, Vale of Lune and Fylde still have their final fixtures to fulfil this weekend. Vale, smarting from only their third defeat in North One West last Saturday, travel to Wilmslow, who must win to pip Northwich for the runner-up spot behind tomorrow’s visitors.
There are debuts for wingers Tom Rogers and Nathan Manning, while Charlie Lomas comes in at scrum-half, Owen Brandford props, Adam Foxcroft is at lock and Jack Sadler and Evan Stewart return to the back row.
For their last game in National League One for at least a season, Fylde visit Cambridge, who beat them 25-12 at Ansdell at the start of the campaign.
Vale of Lune: Hall; Rogers, Jacques, Higgin, Manning; Turton, Lomas; Brandford, Powers, Pillow, Fellows, Foxcroft, Sadler, Ayrton, Stewart. Replacements: Stephens, Rainford, Spavin.
Meanwhile, a number of players from all three local clubs will be hoping to land a place in the Lancashire line-up as the Red Rose sets out on the defence of its Bill Beaumont County Championship title a week tomorrow.
The original 44-strong training squad featured eight Hoppers – Pete Altham, Niall Crosley, Scott Jordan, Matt Lamprey, Oga Mabaya, Ally Murray, Jake Squirrell and Sam Stott – along with Vale’s Jordan Dorrington and Evan Stewart and Fylde’s Tom Burtonwood, Tom Carleton, Dave Fairbrother, Ben Gregory, Adam Lewis, Alex Loney, Ben Vernon and Connor Wilkinson.
Also in the frame are former Hoppers Lewis Allen, Reece Tomlinson and Phil Mills.
Lancashire, once again coached by Mark Nelson, open their group campaign with a visit to Percy Park to play Northumberland.