Stockport boss Dave Challinor always believed his side would be fighting for promotion as the Hatters prepare to face Carlisle in the Sky Bet League Two play-off final.
County are bidding to make it back-to-back promotions on Sunday and booked their place at Wembley after coming from behind to beat Salford 3-1 on penalties after the two sides were locked at 2-2 on aggregate after extra time over two legs.
Challinor took over at Edgeley Park in November 2021, just five months after he guided Hartlepool into League Two and the County boss repeated that feat with his current club – this time finding himself one game away from his first English Football League promotion.
The 47-year-old admitted they suffered a poor start to the season but never stopped believing he could guide the club to successive promotions.
He told a press conference: “The start of this season was tough but we have got over that and we have built.
“Now it’s come up to this point where we have to back ourselves and we all hoped of having the shot of getting into League One because that was our ambition at the start of the season.
“It was a big ambition some would say, now we have the opportunity to take it. Promotion was always the plan, the hope, the ambition and that’s the big thing.”
Stockport ended the season unbeaten in 13 games but narrowly missed out on the automatic promotion places, finishing just four points behind Northampton in third place.
Challinor admits the Wembley stage is a far different atmosphere to many that greet his players on the pitch on a weekly basis in the fourth tier, as around 40,000 fans are expected to descend onto Wembley Way.
He continued: “You can have an impact in front of 10,000 at Edgeley Park, a bigger impact elsewhere in front of 2,000, it’s going to be difficult in front of the Wembley crowd.
“What we do everyday on the grass outside gives us bigger belief and trust that the players are good enough and that’s not going to stop me from wanting to kick a bottle or an advertising board.
“We are in a really strong situation, the fact we have got two players in (Antoni) Sarcevic and (Chris) Hussey that have played in a play-off final, so in terms of that, they can pass on completely different feelings and emotions, and we need to use those experiences in a positive way.”
Striker Paddy Madden has scored 10 league goals this season so far, and was also a part of the side which won promotion to League Two last year.
The 33-year-old made the switch to non-league from League One Fleetwood in the 20-21 season, and Madden insists his move was always based around the vision of the football club when many thought it was for financial reasons only.
He said: “At the time there were a lot of eyebrows raised about dropping down the leagues but I knew what kind of plans were in place here.
“I had the chance to watch a couple of game at Edgeley Park, heard the atmosphere and that played a massive part in me coming here because I knew how well the team was followed.
“We always backed ourselves that we would get into a good position, we are annoyed with ourselves that we did not get top three but at the same time getting promoted through the play-offs is better.”