CARL Macauley is preparing his Witton Albion side for a play-offs semi-final and finding it hard to believe they have not been promoted as champions.

They finished as runners-up in the Northern Premier League’s Division One South with a points total that would have been enough to secure first place in all but one of the eight seasons since the section was formed in 2007.

“It’s tough to take,” the Witton manager said.

“But that shows you how well Shaw Lane have done, and they deserve to win the title.”

All the more remarkably, the statistic above remains so even after a three-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player.

There are no glum faces at Wincham Park though.

Second spot brings with it home advantage, and it is AFC Rushden & Diamonds who must make a long journey north on Tuesday.

While Witton’s place in the play-offs has been secure for some time, Andy Peaks’ men only made sure by beating Carlton at the weekend.

“It makes a difference to know we’ll be playing in front of our supporters,” said Macauley.

“Lads don’t need to worry about getting off work in time, although we can’t of course simply rely on being at home to get through.”

Albion are also aware that they have twice beaten Diamonds already this season, registering a brace of 2-0 wins during a three-week spell in March.

They helped contribute to a 25-points distance between the teams in the final table.

That gives them a slight psychological edge, but Macauley has stressed it is up to his team to emphasise again that difference out on the field.

He added: “We’ve learned some things from those games, principally that they’re a strong side.

“We’ve done really well against them previously, but this is a one-off match.

“Our aim is to do exactly as we have done for most of the season, and to be on the front foot – that much won’t change.

“As a management team, it’s our job to raise the players and get as much as we can from them to reach the final.

“Had you offered it to us in August, then of course we’d have accepted to be in the top five and to be playing a semi-final on our own patch.

“Back then, that was our target.”

A 1-0 defeat at Shaw Lane a fortnight ago left the Ducks as overwhelming favourites to win automatic promotion, something the Ducks made sure of by winning their next three games.

Albion won their remaining matches too, but Macauley has rotated heavily to keep his players as fresh as possible.

He added: “For that spell after [losing to Shaw Lane], we tried not to think too far ahead and we wanted to carry on winning just in case they slipped up.

“We did that, which means we finish the season on a high, but I’m confident we’ve given the lads enough time off and tried to look after them as best we can.

“The substitutions we’ve made have been tactical to make sure of that.

“Everybody is ok, and we’ve made it over the line.

“Now we have to make sure we’re ready for Rushden.”