GOALSCORING ace Terry Fearns has quit Vauxhall to join Conference North rivals Southport on a Bosman-style free transfer.
Fearns, 26, who netted 111 times for the Motormen in just three seasons, including 37 in the 2003/04 campaign, signed for the Sand-grounders on Friday despite Vauxhall's repeated attempts to get him to pen a new deal at Rivacre Park.
Although disappointed to lose the UniBond Premier League's most prolific striker, Vauxhall manager Owen Brown remains defiant about his side's chances next season.
He said: 'People thought that Vauxhall would never replace Gregg Blundell but we have to move on. It's a case of the king is dead, long live the king.
'We might not be able to bring in a direct replacement straight away but we'll find ways of plugging the gap and we'll still finish above Southport next season.
'Terry was offered improved terms by Vaux-hall and we did our best to keep him, but Southport have made him a fantastic offer.
'They're a big club who can attract crowds of 800 whereas we play in front of 200 people. We can still compete with them on the pitch because we work hard, but at times like this, the financial differences off the pitch show.
'Perhaps if the people of Ellesmere Port came out to support us in such numbers then we'd be able to keep players like Terry as, while he's a tremendous player, I feel he could have improved further at Vauxhall.
He added: 'I'm grateful for the goals that Terry scored for us last season and his contribution went a long way in
achieving our impressive finish to the season. But he admits himself that he only scored so many goals because of the excellent service he received from the quality players alongside him.'
Chairman Alan Bartlam praised Fearns' contribution but remains puzzled by the fact that the player, who went on a trial spell with Hull City last season, scoring twice in a reserve match, had not joined a club in a higher division.
He said: 'Strikers of his quality don't come along too often.
'While I understand the arithmetic, I'm disappointed that Terry has left us to join a fellow Conference North side.
'Hull had kept tabs on him but there was no concrete interest from any other clubs higher up the pyramid.'
Fearns, who was signed from St Helens Town and started his career with Wigan Athletic, was presented with a Golden Boot by Vauxhall on the last day of the season in recognition of scoring a century of goals for the club.
He bagged tallies of 36, 38 and 37 in his three seasons at the club, hitting seven hat-tricks including a club-record five-goal salvo at Blyth Spartans last September.
Meanwhile, Vauxhall have managed to get Fearns' 30-goal strike-partner Peter Cumiskey to sign a new two-year deal alongside left-back Wayne McDermott.