UTTOXETER could only draw against struggling Mickleover in their Derbyshire County League Division Six South clash – but took a big step towards promotion with Ockbrook 3rds losing.
The Town stretched their lead over Ockbrook to 28 points and, with a game in hand, elevation to Division Five looks theirs to throw away.
They welcomed Mickleover to the Racecourse on Saturday, with Michael Skelham once again in charge in the absence of skipper Jon Walmsley.
With a big weekend coming up when Uttoxeter face Rolleston 3rds and Spondon 3rds, a strong result was required.
The visitors won the toss and elected to bowl, getting early reward as the big-hitting Ian Bailey was lbw to skipper Richard Kingham for six.
Tony Hayes soon followed him for a duck and the Town were in trouble at 26-2.
However, Ashley Young (50) had started well and was joined at the crease by in-form Adam Johnson (77).
Young and Johnson found the boundary with regularity, Young punishing anything full with some terrific drives. He was in a free-scoring mood and although he hit the ball in the air on occasions he hit six boundaries and went to his half-century in quick time with the score only on 78-2.
Young departed to a soft catch straight after bringing up his 50, which was disappointing, but it brought Gavin Hall to the crease.
Johnson and Hall have made a habit of batting well together and the partnership was soon up and running, with Johnson taking charge, lifting a couple of sixes off Tom Stevenson and moving to his third consecutive half-century. He seems to relish batting up the order.
Hall was clear in his approach, being watchful but rotating the strike brilliantly and allowing Johnson to keep the scorebook ticking along at a brisk speed.
The duo decided it was time to hit the accelerator and Hall launched a superb six over mid-on and Johnson crashed two sixes straight back over the head of Kulvinder Singh.
Johnson was dropped by Chris Stevenson at mid-on before perishing to Singh going for one shot too many.
Hall departed soon after for 29, stumped while trying to force the slow bowling.
Jan Kasperowicz and Marcus Mellor tried to push the pace to allow a declaration before the former was bowled for eight.
Mellor was well caught for 16 and Skelham called the batsman in after 43 overs with the score on 214-7.
Skelham started impeccably, bowling a terrific line and getting the ball to swing back in to the left hander Akash Bist and it was not long before he had the middle stump pegged back.
Johnson was struggling to bowl anywhere near his normal pace due to injury and it was right that Skelham took him out of the attack for Steve Brookes.
Skelham was unlucky not to claim the important wicket of Chris Stevenson when an edge flew between the wicket keeper and a wide first slip.
Brookes, though, immediately struck at the other end as Stevenson slashed at one that turned and Johnson took a sharp catch in the slips.
Tom Stevenson at the other end was progressing well and moved on to 48 before wicket-keeper Hayes took care of a fine edge off Kasperowicz, who had replaced the impressive Skelham. Captaining a side when a team is playing for a draw is never easy, so Skelham decided regular changes were required and the introduction of Hall instantly reaped rewards as he bowled both Dalvir Singh and Kulvinder Singh in the space of a few overs and all of a sudden the win was looking possible once more.
It looked even more likely when Kasperowicz trapped Harry Logan first ball lbw and Hall then dismissed Amrit Bola, caught by his spin partner.
Mickleover were seven down and it was time for the return of Skelham, who immediately bowled Alex Toft after a splendid effort for eight, batting through a number of overs in search of the draw.
Uttoxeter were to fall just two wickets short of victory but still came away with a nice haul in terms of points, with Mickleover finishing on 120-8.
Credit must go to Mickleover for fighting their way through the innings.
Ockbrook were comprehensively beaten by Rosehill Methodists, meaning two strong results next week should really open up a gap in the final push for the league title.