ONLY five months ago, Linby Colliery Welfare more or less wrapped up the worst season in their history with an 8-1 drubbing away to local-derby rivals, Hucknall Rolls Leisure.
They were rock bottom with just seven points from an entire campaign of football.
But in their latest match, they returned to the same ground to take on the same opponents and beat them 2-1 to make it seven wins from their first seven matches and stay top of the Notts Senior League’s Senior Division.
It’s a transformation so remarkable that Dispatch Sport cannot remember anything of its ilk in the past.
It is also, of course, testament to the ability of new managers Dave Bradshaw and Dave Marlow, who have worked wonders by mixing deftness in the transfer market with tactical shrewdness and man-management to restore confidence and self-belief.
But while Linby bask in the amazing U-turn, Rolls find themselves at a crossroads.
After the defection of several leading sides from the NSL’s top flight in the summer, they were one of the favourites to launch a title bid, having reached the league cup final for the past two seasons.
But so far, they have failed to take advantage. And last Saturday’s match must have left managers Jez Corthorn and Paul Jordan bewildered by the speed and ease with which Linby have bypassed them in the pecking-order of local pride.
What’s more, Corthorn and Jordan were dealt two more savage blows this week with the decision of two of their most senior players, Richard Harrison and Ash Marshall, to quit the club and join Radford in the East Midlands Counties League.
Harrison, who is known to be frustrated by Rolls’s lack of transfer activity, has left before. But this time, his decision looks likely to be more permanent, given that he has taken up the assistant manager’s post at Radford, alongside their new boss, Paul Rawden.
The consensus of opinion in the sizeable crowd at the Rolls-Royce Leisure Club last Saturday was that the outcome was the right one. Rolls shaded the first half but Linby created most of the game’s chances and even missed a penalty.
Both sides lined up with key players missing — and also players turning out against their former clubs. And it was one of the latter, midfielder Alistair ‘Tolly’ Murray, who gave The Rollers a 17th minute lead when arriving unmarked at the far post to head in a corner from Duncan Osbourne.
Linby responded four minutes later when ever-improving striker Matt Murphy turned and planted a wonderful curler into the top corner of Neil Waters’ net from 25 yards.
And they should have gone in front four minutes from the break when a lapse in concentration by Duncan Paterson saw him harshly penalised for pushing Dave Marlow in the box.
Damian Mann blazed the spot-kick high over the bar. But the quicksilver frontman, who once struggled to get into Rolls’s reserve-team, made amends by scoring the game’s winning goal just past the midway point of the second half.
Man-of-the-match Murphy was the architect, wriggling free down the right and crossing for Mann to slide under Waters from nine yards.
Rolls responded by committing more men forward. And despite the absence of top marskman Andy Start, fellow forward Kyle McDermott always looked dangerous. Indeed, earlier in the game, he brought two fine saves from visiting ‘keeper Scott Miles.
However the closing stages could have brought more goals for Linby on the break, particularly when Mann shot inches wide after a jinking run. And their joy after the game was in stark contrast to the dejection in the Rolls camp.
The only downsides for Linby were injuries to Ryan Briody and Simon Martin. But positives were the debut of Matt Falconer and the return to fitness of captain Mark Jago.