The destiny of BULWELL’s title challenge is finally in their own hands after they showed Nottingham Forest just how to deal with Derby-based opposition last Saturday.
The Bulls made their third journey in a fortnight down the A52 Brian Clough Way to face a team from Mickleover in the Central Midlands League’s South Division.
And unlike Billy Davies’s Reds at Derby County, they returned home smiling after a 3-1 victory that was as much about character as ability.
With second-placed Clifton All Whites being held to a draw at Hucknall Town, Terry Witts and Steve Osborne’s team now hold a four-point lead at the top.
And they know that if they win all of their remaining seven matches, beginning at home to local-derby rivals Linby Colliery Welfare this Saturday, they cannot be caught.
Bulwell were still without the services of a host of key players for the Mickleover Royal Briish Legion clash.
They included skipper Dwayne Soar (back injury), injured trio Ian Marley, Emmanuel Kashila-Kanyinda and Chris Murdock and strikers Conor Carter and Anthony Gregory.
So Witts and Osborne deserve huge credit for the shrewd signings they made at the start of the year, which enabled them to field a side unrecognisable from that which started the season, but one that was still strong.
One of those signings, 21-year-old Connor Croft, who was a highly-rated potential pro in his younger days, scored two of their goals in an unlikely strike partnership with Jamie McKeever.
But the main hero was goalkeeper James Wheat, who enjoyed a match to remember, starting in the opening minutes when he pulled off at least two outstanding saves.
Wheat foiled a bubbly start by the in-form home side, and as Bulwell forced their way into the game, they took the lead just after the half-hour mark.
Excellent wing play saw Jamie Walker combine with Ryan Bowen to set up Croft, who showed excellent composure to drag the ball back, leave the ‘keeper and two defenders on the floor and smash into the far corner.
The opening half ended with Wheat unveiling yet another fine stop. And the second half opened with him helping The Bulls to double their lead.
Wheat’s route-one kick was flicked on by McKeever for Croft, who played in his big mate Walker to drive home from close range.
Poor finishing prevented Mickleover halving the deficit before Bulwell suffered another major injury-blow when centre-back Ben Moore had to go off with a thigh strain that could keep him out for several weeks.
The home side took advantage only a minute later when a quick break resulted in a neat strike from the lively Matt Weightman.
However, Bulwell got themselves re-organised, with McKeever filling in at the back, and they sealed the points with a third goal six minutes from the end.
Man-of-the-match Wheat was again the instigator with a long ball upfield that the home defence failed to deal with, allowing Croft to show his prowess again with a cool, calm and collected finish.
After the Linby clash this weekend, Bulwell travel to Allenton United the following Saturday before taking on fellow championship-chasers South Normanton Athletic in the semi-final of the league’s Phoenix Floodlit Trophies Cup on Tuesday 9th April.