UTTOXETER Town suffered their first competitive defeat at Oldfields since entering the non-league pyramid 18 months ago after second-placed Ball Haye Green completed a smash-and-grab victory.
Town were unbeaten in 15 league games coming into the match – and with another excellent crowd watching the Premier Division leaders were confident of grabbing all three points, despite tasting defeat at Ball Haye earlier in the season.
Town started well enough in the opening five minutes, moving the ball around nicely, but the visitors were clearly in the mood to cause an upset and grabbed the opener with nine minutes on the clock.
It was a scrappy goal from the hosts’ point of view.
A corner was headed well clear by Lee Bagley and a timid shot was returned on the volley by the unmarked Paul Killeer.
And his shot somehow made its way through a crowd of players and nestled in the bottom corner past the unsighted Alex Langridge.
Town looked to force their way back into the match, but were soon forced into a reshuffle when skipper Martin Gadsby was forced out of the game with a hamstring injury on 20 minutes.
His replacement, Matty Redshaw, almost created the equaliser within minutes of coming on.
The youngster crossed brilliantly to the far post where James Curley seemed set to nod the ball into the empty net – but the striker directed his header straight at Green’s keeper who parried.
Uttoxeter were beginning to turn the screw as the half wore on, and two stonewall penalty appeals were turned down by the referee in the space of two minutes.
Both were fouls on frontman Tommy Smith.
The first was a sliding challenge from behind which missed the ball, with the second a blatant shirt pull that dragged the forward to the floor with Smith well placed to score.
With the referee and linesmen unmoved, Town felt hard done by and Ball Haye looked sharp on the break without ever really troubling Langridge again.
The second half continued with Uttoxeter pushing for the equaliser – but Green defended for their lives.
A fine block denied Liam Sowter before a another penalty appeal was turned down on 60 minutes, when Smith’s goal-bound effort appeared to be palmed away by a covering defender.
The keeper then denied Smith by tipping his effort onto the bar and eventual safety, before Jack Holley and Bagley got in each other’s way for a simple back post header.
It was all Town as the game marched into the final 10 minutes – and eventually the breakthrough arrived.
Chris Richards bombed into the last third before delivering brilliantly for Nick Ward, who rose highest to cushion home his header to the delight of the 161 home fans.
Town then went in search of the winner that would have given them daylight at the top of the Staffordshire County League.
And had Curley finished when well placed, it would have been all over.
But instead it turned out to be Green who grabbed the winner.
With seconds left on the clock another hopeful effort on the turn, this time from 25 yards by midfielder Dale Walter, took a huge deflection off Kyle Esplin, and rolled agonisingly beyond the reach of Langridge.
Green were ecstatic – mirroring the reaction Town gave a week earlier at Hanley Town – Mark Grimley’s young side will need to pick themselves up in order to continue their quest for the league title.
With no game this weekend, Town will have to wait until December 21 and a visit to Abbey Hulton, kick-off 2pm, for their next league fixture.
Gavin Carr Financial Man of the Match: Nick Ward
TOWN: Langridge, Woods, Ward N, Bagley, Richards, Sowter, Holley, Esplin, Gadsby (Redshaw 20), Curley, Smith T. Subs not Used: Price, Collins, D Ward, K Smith.