MIDDLEWICH Town, written off by their own manager last month, are suddenly clear favourites to win the Mid Cheshire League for the first time in 29 years.

Boss Terry Murphy confessed on this page only six weeks ago, the title was beyond them.

But since then Middlewich have beaten Barnton and initiated a collapse by the seven-times champions - so much so they have lost five out of their last six games.

Even this time last week Middlewich were only slightly more optimistic than previously because their hopes depended entirely on Barnton losing as well as their own success.

And that is precisely what has happened.

Murphy said: 'Never back a tip off me! But it is true, five or six weeks ago we did not stand a chance - you just could not see Barnton losing and we hadn't done enough at that time.'

But the dramatic turnaround came with Middlewich's 2-1 win at Townfield Lane only a fortnight ago. Since then Barnton have lost three on the trot - and now Middlewich have three games in hand and are only a point behind. Barnton - whose unprecedented glory was started by Murphy with the first two of seven titles - have just one game remaining.

Now Murphy is about to launch Middlewich - fingers crossed - on a similar path, but he is still cautious.

'We have not won anything yet - Poynton are still very much in with a chance.

'But if we win our games, nothing can stop us now.

'It has been an incredible turn about. I can hardly believe it myself.

'I always thought we were the only team that could match Barnton. They may be an even better footballing side than we are, but we are physically stronger - and we are playing very well indeed at the moment.

'We have still got to fend off Poynton - and Barnton have got to play there, though I don't expect them to do us any favours. Indeed, I don't want them to do us a favour. We want to win it ourselves.'

Middlewich are at Knutsford on Saturday and victory would take them back to the top where they intend to stay for the rest of the campaign.

If Middlewich Reserves win also - at second from bottom Crosfield - they will head their division and be clear favourites to win the title and complete a unique double.

It all gives Middlewich part of the structure they require to apply for the North West Counties League membership in the future.

Though they have never had a better chance of entry than this summer - when non-league's shake-up has opened vacancies at all levels - Middlewich do not feel they have all the necessary infrastructure in place, especially improved finances.

'That's the right decision,' said Murphy. 'I do want to know what the club's ambitions are and I am here next season if they want me. But there is no point in going up if it means a struggle.'