TOMMY Smith was the returning hero for Uttoxeter Town on Saturday when he notched a last second winner less than 45 seconds after Hanley appeared to have stolen a point in injury time.
It was always going to be a tough match for the Staffordshire Senior League Premier Division leaders, with Hanley Town on a superb 10-match unbeaten run and the visitors also shy of a number of first-team players.
Nick Ward, the hat-trick hero three days earlier at Eccleshall was unavailable, along with Liam Sowter and Matty Redshaw, and centre-half Lee Bagley was only available for 60 minutes.
Alex Woods, Jack Holley and Smith all returned to the starting line-up with Smith making his first appearance since his red card at Lichfield City in October.
Straight from the kick-off it was evident what Uttoxeter were to expect from their hosts, Hanley forcing a succession of early corners that the visitors eventually managed to clear.
It took the leaders 10 minutes to settle into their game but as the half wore on Town slowly began to dominate, the midfield trio of Holley, Kyle Esplin and Martin Gadsby beginning to get the better of their counterparts.
Holley thought he had given Town the lead on the quarter-hour when a clipped free kick seemed destined for the far top corner but the ball was inadvertently deflected off Smith’s hand as he challenged the keeper, the referee also showing a yellow card to the Town striker to add salt to his wounds.
Hanley then had their chance to take the lead, the home winger seeing a rising effort fly past the post from 12 yards.
The breakthrough came for the visitors on 35 minutes when Bagley and Gadsby won the ball on their own byline.
The former charged out of defence before releasing James Curley and the striker made his way into the box before striking a firm drive across the Hanley keeper that was palmed into the path of Rob Collins, who smashed the loose ball home from 10 yards.
It was no more than Town had deserved after slowly getting the better of their opponents, but Hanley were in no mood to roll over and they got back on level terms with half-time approaching.
A swift break saw their midfielder Michael Machin get beyond the Town backline and finish well.
The second half was a tense affair with neither side able to create a clear-cut opening until Curley easily got the better of his marker, shifted the ball onto his right foot and drove a fine finish home from 18 yards to again give Uttoxeter the advantage.
It seemed that the visitors were set to take all three points as the full-time whistle approached.
Harry Price and Dom Ward were resilient in defence and Smith, Curley and Chris Richards all saw efforts well saved as they went in search of the third goal but Uttoxeter had to call on Alex Langridge to pull off a wonder save in the 83rd minute to keep Hanley at bay.
Stanier smashed a low drive through a crowd of players towards the bottom corner only for the in-form Langridge to dive full length to his right and brilliantly palm the ball to safety.
The clock ticked into the 90th minute with Hanley pressing hard, and the home support were in raptures when the equaliser arrived.
A long ball down the right saw Richards seemingly fouled but with the referee waving play on, the ball was played across for Machin to tap home his second and seemingly snatch two points off the league leaders.
With seconds left on the clock, Town restarted the match. Holley immediately played the ball out to Woods on the right and the full back tricked his way forward superbly before picking out Curley in the box and the frontman’s clever back heel found Smith six yards out.
The striker, who had worked tirelessly all match, turned the ball home to spark some wild scenes of celebration.
Next up promises to be one of the games of the season as leaders Town entertain second place Ball Haye Green at Oldfields on Saturday.
Kick-off is 2pm with Uttoxeter hoping to have another sizeable crowd supporting them.
Infinity IT Man of the Match: Alex Woods – fantastic work to set up the last-minute winner and an excellent all-round performance from the 17-year-old.
TOWN: Langridge, Woods, Price, Bagley (Ward 60), Richards, Holley, Gadsby, Esplin, Curley, Smith, Collins.