ANTHONY Gardner experienced the best day of his career in football as Witton Albion secured promotion with a 2-1 victory against Spalding United on Saturday.
He scored the winning goal then, as captain, lifted a glass trophy marking his team’s success in a play-offs final.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” he told the Guardian afterwards.
“I can’t take it in – what a great time to get my first goal of the season.
“It came at the right time as well, to send us up.”
The 26-year-old’s decisive moment, with a quarter of an hour left and two games short of his 300th for the club, will feel wholly redemptive.
He was on the field five years ago this week when Albion crushed Curzon Ashton, also in a winner-takes-all clash, to take their place in the Northern Premier League’s top-flight.
However he was a notable absentee from the action at Stamford back in 2015, when Witton were relegated after losing a game they had only needed draw to stay up.
He had sat out the final two months of that campaign after being punished for his part in an incident that took place in the social club at Wincham Park following a home game against Ramsbottom.
The full-back, who signed for Albion from Cammell Laird in 2011, readily admits that nadir contrasts sharply with how he felt after nudging a rebound over the line to end Spalding’s challenge.
He said: “It’s my best day in football, no question.
“I scored the winner, and lifted the trophy – that’s not bad, is it?
“It was the right result, and we deserved to win the game.
“They couldn’t get out of their own half after the break – it was backs to the wall.
“We took the lead, then they scored an unbelievable goal from nothing. I just thought ‘wow’ – he probably couldn’t do that again if he tried a million times – and it gave them a lift.
“My goal is a bit of a blur; I remember it came from one of their throw-ins, and when we started to break I tried to get up there and offer support.
“The keeper made a great save, but luckily I was in the right place to score. It was just mayhem after that!”
And Gardner believes this version of Witton is better-equipped to make an impact in the Premier Division than any of the previous ones he has been a part of.
He added: “There are so many similarities between this team and the one that went up in 2012.
“I think this side is stronger, it’s more together.
“The majority of these lads will stay, and we’ll give it a fair, hard crack next season.
“We’re not frightened of who we’ll come up against.
“Carl [Macauley] will make sure we’re ready; he’s a cracking fella, and we love playing for him and Gary [Martindale].
“They’ve been great since they came here.”