ALEX Langridge produced a last-gasp penalty save as Uttoxeter Town beat Abbey Hulton in their penultimate game – ensuring that the Premier Division title race in the Staffordshire Senior League goes down to the final weekend.
Town must now overcome Keele University on Saturday – while hoping that Hilton Harriers beat table-topping Wolstanton United – to stand a chance of being crowned champions.
Uttoxeter travelled with a threadbare squad up to the Potteries.
Lee Bagley, Tommy Smith, Matt Redshaw and James Curley were all unavailable while Alex Woods, Rob Collins, Chris Richards and Jason Cockshutt were ruled out through injury.
It meant a second start of the season for Jon Lamburn in attack – and it was Lamburn who produced an inspired first-half display to give Town the advantage at the break.
The first goal arrived in the opening minutes. A long Langridge clearance was helped on by Mark Hodson before Lamburn battled bravely to win the ball.
It fell kindly to onrushing midfielder Kyle Esplin who slammed home a fine finish to give Town the advantage.
Hulton, who have enjoyed a fine run of form, came back strongly. But the Town defence held firm, with Mark Springall and skipper Martin Gadsby forming the base for another Uttoxeter attack which on 15 minutes brought about one of the goals of the season.
Hodson was again instrumental, causing havoc in the Hulton defence. There seemed little danger when the ball dropped 20 yards out – before Lamburn lashed an exquisite volley into the top corner to extend Town’s advantage.
Despite the deficit the hosts continued to show their quality in the final third, while Town’s back four were under enough pressure to suggest the job was only half done.
But Lamburn grabbed another fine goal for his second of the match.
Hodson, enjoying his best match in a Town shirt, got to the by-line and dinked a fine ball to the back post, where Lamburn headed home expertly from 10 yards to give Town breathing space.
Abbey hit back just before the break to give the hosts hope going into the second period. Home pressure told when Todd Bailey slammed Abbey’s second home on 52 minutes.
Against a side so intent on attacking in numbers, Town did well for the next 20 minutes to limit any clear-cut chances.
But when keeper Langridge made an uncharacteristic error from a free-kick, the Abbey striker was on-hand to poke home his second of the game and draw the sides level.
Town knew that anything other than three points would mean Wolstanton would be crowned champions, so they again pressed forward and eventually grabbed their just reward.
Harry Price, producing another exceptional performance at right back, glided a superb cross into the path of Hodson who finished expertly with a diving header to give Town the lead again.
Against a barrage of attacks Town stood firm. Hulton then had a defender dismissed as frustrations grew.
Town looked as though they would see out the game without too many scares before the referee pointed to the spot in the sixth minute of injury time, with George Marshman accused of a shirt pull in a crowded penalty area.
With no appeals from the hosts it was a contentious decision from the referee.
Less than eight seconds remained on the referees watch as the player ran up and powered his spot-kick to Langridge’s right, but the Town keeper produced a wonderful one-handed stop.
However it looked in vain as the ball fell invitingly for the penalty taker to ram home the rebound until, somehow, Langridge managed to throw his body in the opposite direction to tip the ball to safety.
The last match of the season sees Uttoxeter travel to Keele on Saturday, knowing a four-goal winning margin will see them champions if Hilton upset the odds and beat Wolstanton.
TOWN: Langridge, Price, Springall, Gadsby, Marshman, Sowter, Holley, Esplin, Weston, Hodson, Lamburn.