Clitheroe had to settle for a point last Saturday after being pegged back by fellow strugglers Ossett Albion in a nervy encounter at Shawbridge.
There were five changes to the team that started the recent defeat at Prescot. Kevin Brown and Sam Christensen replaced Jack Higgins and Matty Fearon in defence, while Alex Johnson, Andrew Naylor and Ross Dent came in for Marcus Calvert, Glodi Kuba-Kuba and James Davis.
Clitheroe boast an impressive record against Ossett Albion at Shawbridge, having recorded six victories in eight games in all competitions dating back to 2005, and it looked as though this trend would continue as the home side flew out of the blocks and found themselves two goals to the good within four minutes.
The Blues signalled their intent from the outset with Dent heading over Nat Taylor’s whipped cross within seconds of the kick-off. The game was only three minutes old when Johnson was fouled by Andrew McManus a couple of yards outside the D and Oliver Devenney curled the free kick over the wall and past the outstretched dive of Jody Barford in the Ossett goal.
Things got even better a minute later as Devenney (pictured being mobbed by his teammates) made it two, taking his personal tally to five goals in four appearances, firing a loose ball beyond Barford after both Johnson and Andrew Naylor had been denied by the Ossett stopper.
The hosts failed to build on this sublime start and allowed Ossett back into the game six minutes later. McManus evaded the Clitheroe defence to head home Adam Hayton’s free kick at the back post.
Ossett had won three of their previous four away fixtures coming into this match, including useful victories at Garforth Town, Woodley Sports and Harrogate Railway, and seemed to find their feet with this goal after a frenetic start.
Before the half-time whistle Barford was forced to turn behind a stinging effort from the lively Johnson, who also drove at the Ossett defence after picking up a Connor Smith clearance on the half-way line, playing in Lee Pugh on the left, who in turn found Devenney, who fired wide looking for his hat-trick.
The Blues were to benefit from a moment of indecision from the officials just before the break as Zack Hibbert appeared to handle outside his area, albeit unintentionally, as he dealt with a through ball. The referee looked long and hard at his assistant who remained unmoved.
Clitheroe held a slender lead going into the second half which was a largely scrappy affair on the whole that lacked any sort of rhythm or tempo.
Ossett equalised after 57 minutes when Marc Thompson teed up Darol Lucas, a scorer during the reverse fixture in January, whose lob seemed to deceive Hibbert on its way into the net.
Neither side managed to seize the initiative in the remainder of the second period, although Clitheroe were to miss a golden opportunity to restore their lead as the game approached the final 10 minutes.
Pugh’s quick throw allowed Johnson to spin into space and cross from the bye-line, only for substitute John Osemwegie to implausibly miss the target from below the crossbar with the goal at his mercy.
Osemwegie came close to redeeming himself with a couple of minutes remaining as he latched onto Taylor’s through ball, but saw Barford pull off an outstanding save to repel his rasping effort from range.
The final chance of the match fell to the hosts in injury time as Chris Smalley, voted man of the match by the sponsors, played in Joe Roberts after a powerful run, but the substitute could only find the side-netting.
This fixture represented an opportunity for Clitheroe to take a giant stride towards guaranteeing their Evo-Stik League status, both in terms of how the match unfolded and in the context of all four of their remaining games being against teams in the top seven.
Harrogate Railway won in impressive fashion at Salford and Wakefield took a point from Curzon Ashton, a result which also has repercussions at the top of the league.
There are clubs in much more imminent danger, but whilst it is still mathematically possible for the unthinkable to happen, nagging doubts are bound to remain.
Clitheroe: Hibbert, Smalley, Pugh (c), Brown, Christensen, Smith, Taylor, Devenney (Roberts 74), Naylor (Osemwegie 68), Johnson, Dent. Subs not used: Calvert, Davis, Kuba-Kuba.