By James Grayson (Twitter: @jamesAgrayson)
Taking the Shaw Lane Aquaforce manager’s job was right club at the right time, according to Simon Houghton.
Houghton ended a two-season self-imposed exile as a number one to take charge at the ambitious Toolstation NCEL Division One side in July.
The Barnsley-based boss had been the assistant at Glasshoughton Welfare and Athersley Recreation since his infamous departure from his position as Pontefract Collieries manager in March 2011.
Houghton helped both teams win promotion from Division One, but it was at Pontefract where he carved out a solid reputation as he led them from the doldrums and turned them into Division One heavyweights in just two-and-a-half years.
Houghton won 56 of his 123 games in charge at Skinner Lane and after two years away from being the main man, he feels Shaw Lane was the right opportunity.
Houghton told Sports Performer: “I’ve had a couple of years out and that’s been the good thing. After what happened at Ponte, I came to Glasshoughton with Craig (Elliott) and helped out which kept my eye in. I didn’t want to lose total contact with it.
“I stepped away from being a manager because of a few personal reasons. It was the same last season because I couldn’t really commit, but things have changed and Shaw Lane was an opportunity on my doorstep that I couldn’t turn down.
“I enjoyed my time at Glasshoughton and then at Athersley Rec last season, it was absolutely brilliant there.
“But, I always knew if the right job came along (I would go back to being a manager). I had several offers, but they weren’t the right jobs. I think I had about ten. But, Shaw Lane is local to me and it fits.
“It is ten minutes from my house and in a prime location for players. We have players from Sheffield, Rotherham and it’s a good catchment area for us as it’s also two minutes off the M1.”
Houghton has enjoyed a great start to life with Shaw Lane as his team are top of the table ahead of the clash with second-placed Eccleshill United.
Aquaforce, who are run by chairman Craig Wood, won the Sheffield and County Hallamshire League title last season and Houghton admits a second consecutive promotion is the aim.
He said: “It is going well. It is an ambitious club and when I took over I didn’t have to do too much because there was a good base.
“There were some good players. They got promotion last year so the aspirations are to do well, as every chairman’s is. He’s been true to his word as everything I have asked for he has provided so the pressure is on.
“There is (pressure on me to get them promoted), but I put pressure on myself anyway and that’s what I said at the interview. I got asked whether I would be able to handle the pressure and I said I could because I want to win games.
“There’s no extra pressure really. The players know me, I’ve always won a lot of games and always been at the right of the table. I also know what big games are all about as I’ve been there and done it.
“I’m enjoying, everything is geared to do well and everything is professional.
“(The chairman) he’s got similar ambitions to Worksop Parramore, he wants to go as high as he can as fast as he can. But, we’re being sensible. Everybody thinks we have masses of money, but once as you work it out, we have 16 players to pay and you can’t stretch that money.”
Eleven goals from Ashley Flynn have helped Shaw Lane reach the summit. Flynn scored 42 goals for Darren Hepworth’s Emley last season and was a wanted man among a number of NCEL teams.
With Flynn leading the attack, Aquaforce have lost twice – to Worsbrough Bridge and AFC Emley and Houghton said: “He was of my top targets, but if I’m being honest I didn’t think we would be able to get him.
“Albion Sports were after him and I thought we wouldn’t have much of a chance because Albion Sports have got a good budget and I knew he lived out that way.
“But, I touched base with John Cyrus and he spoke to Ash. I expected someone who had scored 42 goals to be super-confident type of guy, but he’s the nicest kid I have met in my life.
“He’s top goal-scorer again and we started playing with three upfront – Danny Frost, Chris Coy and obviously Ash and it didn’t really work out. We changed that after our first defeat.
“The defeats have come at a right time against two good teams who are rivals
“A lot of questions were asked, especially after the Worsbrough defeat. On Saturday against Yorkshire Amateur it was the first time we have conceded a goal in the first half.
“One goal conceded in the first half in ten games is quite a good record and it shows we have quite a strong defence.
“We’re top of the league and I know this league and I know no matter how much budget and players you have got, you’re never going to get an easy ride. And it’s about where you finish, not where you are now.”