UTTOXETER Town extended their unbeaten run to eight matches and booked their place in the quarter-final of the Staffordshire County League Challenge Cup despite a below par performance at Keele.
Mark Grimley and Andy O’Connor were without the unavailable Lee Bagley, James McCarron, Chris Richards and Jason Cockshutt for the trip but welcomed back striker James Curley and influential midfielder Martin Gadsby to the starting line up-after both had missed the draw at Audley.
Town were dealt a further blow in the warm-up when centre-half Dom Ward pulled up with a knee injury and so 17-year-old Harry Price was again given a chance to shine, partnering Jack Holley in a new defensive pairing.
The sun beat down and there seemed little energy in the game with both sides content with sitting off their opponents.
The first opportunity arrived for Town when Tommy Smith got to the byline but could not pick out Curley or Matt Redshaw with his pull-back before Keele created their own chance, Price saving the day with a magnificent block from eight yards.
The breakthrough then came on 23 minutes when Kyle Esplin whipped a superb ball into the area for Redshaw to turn back across goal for Curley to head home from close range. It was the striker’s 10th goal of the campaign.
Redshaw then had a golden opportunity to extend the lead after Gadsby played him in on goal but the diminutive frontman saw his deft lob clip the bar and roll to safety.
Town, despite not getting out of second gear, were controlling possession but the last 15 minutes of the first half saw Keele take the game to the visitors and Uttoxeter struggled to contain their young opponents.
The hosts grabbed a deserved equaliser on 38 minutes when their forward was afforded the time and space in the box to shoot low past Alex Langridge.
It was no more than Keele deserved and the second half saw them again look the brighter of the two sides but Town created the better chances to win the game, Redshaw twice finding space 18 yards out only to see low drives comfortably fielded by the University stopper.
With the game in the balance, Town grabbed what proved to be the winner after 70 minutes.
Esplin skipped past his man centrally before easing the ball into the path of Alex Woods at right-back. The youngster took a touch before delivering a fine cross to the far post where skipper Gadsby - as excellent in the air as ever - was on hand to head home his fifth of the season.
It was arguably more than the visitors had deserved but other than a succession of corners that were comfortably dealt with, Town were rarely threatened in the closing stages.
The win takes them through to the quarter-finals of the league cup and there is more cup football to come for Uttoxeter in the coming weeks.
They travel to Ashbourne on Saturday in the Leek Cup before their debut in the Staffs FA Vase pits them against Lichfield City, from the Midland Combination Premier Division, on October 12 in what promises to be an interesting few weeks for Grimley and O’Connor’s men.
After that, it is a return to league action in a crunch encounter at Wolstanton which will be a real test of Uttoxeter’s title credentials.
Infinity IT Man of the Match: Harry Price - another solid display from the youngster.
TOWN: Langridge, Woods, Price, Holley, Collins, Sowter, Gadsby, Esplin, Curley, Smith, Redshaw (Lamburn 80).