Norton 0, AFC Blackpool 2
AFC Blackpool have clinched promotion to the premier division of the Vodkat League but they are far from finished yet.
Stuart Parker’s side, who have won 12 of their last 13 games, are on course for a trophy treble comprising the first division championship, league cup and divisional trophy.
But their primary objective has been achieved and Parker couldn’t be more delighted.
He said: “The whole squad had shown great desire and this is the best group I’ve managed since the Fleetwood Town promotion side of 1999-2000.
“I’m delighted for the committee because we’ve had some difficult years and spent the last few years improving the facilities to entice better players. All this season the chemistry has been fantastic and you can’t buy that.”
Title rivals Runcorn Town could only draw 2-2 with Cheadle on Saturday, leaving AFC six points clear at the top.
Both sides have to squeeze five games into the final 12 days of the league campaign but Parker believes victory in the first two of those will seal the title, starting at home to Abbey Hey tomorrow.
AFC were rarely troubled at Norton but it took two second-half goals by the prolific Niall Cummins to secure the points as both sides ended the match with ten men.
Ben Waddington was dismissed in the second half having gone closest to breaking the deadlock in the first, though he was twice denied by outstanding saves by a Norton keeper who also kept his striker partner Cummins at bay.
The breakthrough was made made ten minutes into the second half, when Anthony Stayte sent Waddington clean through on the keeper and he unselfishly squared the ball for Cummins to score.
Waddington then received his marching orders for two yellow cards in rapid succession, the second for abusing a linesman.
The numbers were evened up when the hosts also saw a striker dismissed – his second yellow awarded for diving – and Cummins sealed victory in the 73rd minute, curling his 24th goal of the season into the top corner after an excellent run and pass by Martin Baird.
AFC chairman Tommy Baldwin said: “We’ve waited 18 years to get here. Stuart has been through some really rough times but he has stuck with us. I’ve seen a lonely man in that dugout over the years and I’m glad to see a smile on his face now. Stuart and Garry Hargreaves have turned this club around.
“This must be the hardest division to get out of and teams who do usually do very well in the premier division.”
Blackpool: Speight, Dell, Baker, Ford, Carroll, Baird, Fawcett, Muscroft Stayte, Waddington, Cummins; subs: Ashall, Rothwell, Walker, Brown, Betteridge.