UTTOXETER Town travelled to top-of-the-table Wolstanton United on Saturday knowing a victory over the pace-setters would allow them to leapfrog their opponents and potentially move to the summit of the Staffordshire County Senior League Premier Division.
Town have enjoyed an excellent start to the season following their promotion from Division One and their title credentials were put to the sternest test against a Wolstanton side who have been in and around the Premier Division title chase for many years.
With prolific forward Mark Grice in attack, the visitors knew that they would have to be defensively solid if they were to return to Uttoxeter from the Potteries unscathed – and the return of James McCarron was a timely boost.
Chris Richards replacing Glyn Douglas was the only other change from the side which had narrowly lost out to Lichfield City in the Staffordshire Vase.
Town gave an indication of what Wolstanton could expect in an excellent first period when James Curley was nearly on the end of an Alex Woods cross, only to be ushered to safety by the recovering defender.
A sodden pitch looked as though it would suit the hosts’ style of play more than that of Town, but Mark Grimley and Andy O’Connor’s men showed some exceptional courage to continue to play the ball on the floor and carved the hosts open with some incisive attacking play.
Woods was at the heart of nearly every Uttoxeter attack, bombing on from full-back to excellent effect.
Wolstanton were no pushovers, though, and as the game swayed from end to end Joe Humphries nearly put the hosts in front when his half volley was tipped around the post by the alert Alex Langridge.
Langridge was again called into action minutes later when he clipped the free-running Grice well outside the box to warrant a yellow card from the referee.
The hosts claimed a red card but with four covering defenders, it was never really a goalscoring opportunity.
Jack Holley, Liam Sowter and Martin Gadsby provided the platform for Kyle Esplin get on the ball in midfield but it was Matty Redshaw who was the thorn in United’s side, the frontman giving central defenders Chris Broad and Matt Rogalski a torrid time.
The deserved breakthrough came for the visitors on the 25-minute mark.
Esplin and Curley combined and the latter slipped the ball through to Redshaw in the box. Town’s striker neatly checked onto his left foot before sliding home a ruthless finish to give Town the advantage.
Curley then had a gilt-edged opportunity to extend that lead when he headed at the keeper from six yards after Redshaw had picked him out with a fine ball before the goalscorer himself had a fine opportunity.
Richards cleared into his path and the striker ran free but caught in two minds between shooting and squaring for Curley, his cross-shot crept agonisingly the wrong side of the far post.
As Wolstanton attacked, Uttoxeter had to stand up and be counted.
Grice saw a low drive flash across the six yard box before Curley has two great opportunities to put the game beyond doubt.
The first, a header from another Redshaw cross, was tipped over the bar before Holley’s superb flick released the striker on goal.
Curley looked to roll the ball past the onrushing Dougie Hughes in the United goal, but the keeper managed to get a foot to the effort and deflect the ball to safety.
Town paid the price for their profligacy when Wolstanton grabbed an equaliser with seconds left on the clock.
Ashley Moran, who had been expertly marshalled by Alex Woods all match, squeezed in a fine cross to the back post.
Richards threw a leg at the ball to clear but the ball ricocheted off the ful-back and keeper Langridge and into the roof of the net.
It was a bitter blow to the visitors, who had controlled the match for the most part but United had posed a serious threat after the break.
One thing is for sure, the test will stand the young Town side in good stead as the top of the table looks increasingly tight.
With Ball Haye Green losing to Audley, Uttoxeter climbed to second spot and will be looking to improve on that this weekend as they entertain Keele in a long overdue home match at Oldfields, kick-off 2.30pm.
Infinity IT Man of the Match: Alex Woods – a superb performance from the 17-year-old right-back.
TOWN: Langridge, Woods, McCarron (Price 71), Bagley, Richards, Sowter (Cockshutt 76), Holley, Gadsby, Esplin, Curley, Redshaw. Subs not used: Brown, Crooks, Collins, Connelley, Smith.