PROMOTION finally became a reality for Witton Albion and Carl Macauley, their manager, could barely take it in.

He stood, alone, in the tunnel at Wincham Park after watching his side beat Spalding United to win a compelling play-off final.

There was a broad smile on his face but, overwhelmed at the scenes unfolding on the field where supporters danced for joy with jubilant players, he could not speak.

He simply shook his head.

“I’ve never felt like this about a football match,” he muttered.

“I don’t have the words.”

It’s understandable, for the 46-year-old has achieved something remarkable.

He arrived at a club still smarting from being relegated, a mood worsened by a slow start to the following season.

Since October 2015, he has built two teams.

The first broke up after Witton were switched to the Northern Premier League’s First Division South.

So he built another.

It is they that made real his dream of steering a side he used to play for back to the Premier Division.

They do so authoritatively, and with a record points haul for a runner-up.

Undeterred, they saw off two of their top-five rivals in one-off games to claim a prize they deserve.

Spalding, perhaps weary from needing extra time to subdue Stocksbridge on Tuesday, were second-best.

But they were resilient too.

Witton’s afternoon may have been more comfortable had Rob Hopley not hooked over from inside the six-yard box after Will Jones nodded a ball into his path on seven minutes.

Jones jabbed then over from a similar position, after Brad Bauress diverted a cross his way, shortly before the interval.

In between, there was stalemate.

Spalding, direct and uncompromising in their approach, kept Albion alert in defence with a barrage of long throws.

Conscious that goalkeeper Michael Duggan’s movement was severely restricted by an injury sustained in midweek, they kept the ball as far from him as possible.

And it worked.

Until the second half that is.

Witton dominated, and cursed their luck when Anthony Brown curled a shot against an upright.

Hopley headed over, but the Tulips’ defending was less assured.

It needed a moment of sorcery to breach them though, and Bauress – Witton’s outstanding individual performer this season – provided it.

He nudged the ball away from a defender by controlling it on his chest and, after pushing it skywards to tee up a volley, thumped a right-foot shot into the net.

Albion’s supporters erupted.

They’re used to the 21-year-old’s brilliance, but he’d upped it a notch when it mattered most.

However Spalding’s response was to equalise three minutes later with an even better strike.

Nathan Stainfield pumped a long ball forward that Bradley Wells diverted towards Leon Mettam.

The striker, without pausing, duly whipped a first-time shot into the top corner.

As swishes of a boot go, it was flawless.

And, quite literally, stunning for the home team.

They are sturdier than most though, and it was not enough to knock them over.

From a Spalding throw, another one, they countered when Bauress swept a pass forward for Steven Tames to chase.

Duggan reacted instinctively to parry Bauress’ header from his teammate’s cross, but captain Anthony Gardner rolled in the rebound.

When he did so, there were four teammates in the penalty area that had joined the attack.

Spalding could not keep up.

Manager Chris Rawlinson made three substitutions, although the withdrawal of star striker Wells felt like an admission he had run out of ideas.

Hopley ought to have added gloss after slaloming past two defenders to go clear, but shot high – leaning back – with only Duggan to beat.

Witton’s supporters had to hold their collective breath one final time, when goalkeeper Danny Roberts caught a header sent straight at him in added time.

Macauley puffed out his cheeks after the final whistle.

“When you go on a journey like ours, it’s nice to arrive,” he smiled.

Witton | 4-4-2 | Roberts (GK), Gardner, Brown, Lycett, Devine, Tames, Haywood, Owens, Bauress, Hopley, Jones Subs not used Omotola, Williams, Noon, Wilson, Ritchie (GK) Goals Bauress 65, Gardner 76

Spalding | 4-4-2 | Duggan (GK), Walker, Miller, Stainfield, Beeson (Acar 79), Varley, Whitehead, Lemon (Higginson 71), Wells (Lockie 82), Mettam Subs not used Spafford, Downey Goal Mettam 68

Referee Ben Speedie

Attendance 811