WOLSTANTON United arrived at Oldfields on Saturday for a top of the table clash – and blew the title race wide open as they took all three points against a below-par Uttoxeter Town.
With the Oldfields pitch somehow surviving the weather and neither side having played for weeks, it was all about which side would take the early initiative, and the fired up visitors wasted little time before showing their early intent.
After Lee Bagley failed a fitness test, James Curley was moved to centre half with Mark Hodson partnering Tommy Smith up front.
And before Curley had time to settle into his new surroundings, Mark Grice found a yard in the box, before dispatching a deflected effort past the despairing Alex Langridge after just 30 seconds.
It was a nightmare start for the hosts. The pre-match downpour did not help in terms of the conditions – and it was certainly the visitors whose more direct approach suited the heavy pitch and swirling wind.
Uttoxeter continued trying to play their football, but the Wolstanton rearguard were resolute and with 30 minutes on the clock a swift counter-attack doubled their advantage.
A Town corner was cleared and roaming centre half Chris Broad ran 60 yards unopposed to fire past Langridge to the delight of the travelling support.
It was no more than Wolstanton deserved.
They visitors were first to everything and had dominated a lacklustre Town side.
But had Hodson or Ward converted two presentable opportunities before the break then the half-time team talk may have been a different story.
As it was, Town failed to make the most of their chances and manager Mark Grimley made two changes at the interval.
Chris Richards was replaced by Rob Collins on the left, while Lee Bagley was introduced up front in place of Hodson.
Town went in search of a lifeline but Rogalski and Broad at centre-half were excellent for the visitors, denying Town’s front two of Tommy Smith and Bagley any space or time.
As the clock ticked down the first chance of note arrived for the hosts when a deep ball from Liam Sowter found Smith six yards out.
With Bagley waiting the striker decided to turn and shoot – but saw his effort fly inches over the bar.
Jack Holley was then thwarted by the excellent United keeper.
The midfielder collected Gadsby’s through-ball but was soon met by the onrushing stopper who deflected the ball away to safety.
Gadsby headed over in the closing minutes from a Rob Collins cross but it was too little too late for Uttoxeter.
The result leaves United and Ball Haye Green as the clear favourites for Staffordshire Senior League’s Premier Division title.
Weather permitting it is cup action next for Town. After two league defeats against Ball Haye Green, the Oldfields outfit will lock horns with Darren Baker’s side once again in Saturday’s League Cup semi-final, kick-off 2pm.
Grimley has gone on record as saying if Town do not at least reach the final of a cup competition – or win the league – the season will have been “a bit of a failure”.
Saturday’s trip is potentially Town’s best opportunity to seal a final berth, but Grimley’s men have lost their two previous Green encounter 2-1 and 3-1.
Mr & Mrs FT Gadsby-sponsored man-of-the-match: Nick Ward
TOWN: Langridge, Woods, Curley, Ward, Richards (Collins), Sowter, Gadsby, Esplin, Holley, Hodson (Bagley), Smith.