Jack Ashton firmly believes AFC Rushden & Diamonds are the team to beat in the race for the Evo-Stik Southern League Division One Central title.
Two home wins in the space of three days this week have seen Andy Peaks’ side open up a six-point advantage at the top of the table ahead of tomorrow’s (Saturday) trip to Fleet Town.
Diamonds cruised to a 3-0 success over Ware last weekend and then followed it up by coming from a goal down to thrash Arlesey Town 6-1 on Tuesday night with Andy Hall scoring his second hat-trick for the club.
Ashton has started the last three games, including the NFA Hillier Senior Cup semi-final victory over Brackley Town, having fully recovered from an operation on his knee.
Those three wins came following a shock 4-0 loss at Beaconsfield SYCOB.
And now a big period is coming up as this weekend’s away game is followed by home matches against St Ives Town and Kings Langley, who are currently second and third respectively, next week.
But Ashton insists the full focus is on Fleet as Diamonds bid to keep up the momentum as they go for a second successive title and automatic promotion.
Asked whether Diamonds are the team to beat, Ashton said: “We are. We are on top of the pile.
“Everyone wants to beat us whether we are top, fifth or seventh but we have just got to keep being professional and keep ticking them off now.
“You can’t just turn up and expect to beat teams and I think the lads do know that.
“Beaconsfield, on the day, gave us the run around and we didn’t get near them.
“But the response the lads have given since then shows the character in the dressing-room and I don’t think anyone can ask for more from them.
“We will take every game as it comes and we will go down to Fleet and try to tick that one off and get another three points.
“There are two massive games to come next week but we keep saying to each other that every match we play now is big for us with the position we are in.”
Ashton’s timely return to fitness has been one of many feelgood stories at the Dog & Duck this season.
Fans rallied round to raise money to help pay for the operation on his knee, which he injured during pre-season but continued to play through for a time.
And the central defender believes his return “couldn’t have gone any better”.
“It’s horrible standing on the sidelines and watching, I am buzzing to be back,” he added.
“When football gets taken away from you it’s disappointing.
“But I am glad to be in the team and we have two wins since I’ve been in there so it couldn’t have gone any better.”