Blues undone by late Widnes suckerpunch
After recovering a two-goal deficit and going within a whisker of snatching three points with just seconds remaining, Clitheroe somehow succumbed to an agonising sucker punch against Widnes.
The hosts trailed by two goals at the interval, recovered impressively in the second half at Shawbridge, hit the crossbar deep in to stoppage time but then conceded a third with the last kick of the game against The Whites.
The visitors were dominant in the opening chapter and took the lead in the first minute when winger Ben Hodkinson tumbled over the leg of Ollie Muir. Player-manager Kevin Towey dispatched the spot kick to make it 1-0.
Hodkinson was troublesome throughout and threatened a couple of times before netting the away side’s second of the afternoon.
Blues goalkeeper Cameron Terry had to be alert when the dangerman whistled two attempts across the face of goal before the quarter-of-an-hour mark.
Widnes began to crank up the pressure and Niall Watson was unfortunate not to extend his side’s advantage after showing tremendous desire to get himself on the end of a Bram Johnstone cross only to be denied by a great Terry save.
The on-loan Accrington Stanley youngster was again thwarted by Terry following the half-hour mark, with the Clitheroe custodian getting down quickly to make the save after Watson raced on to a threaded Towey pass.
However, it was another coming together between Hodkinson and Muir that led to Widnes doubling their advantage, only this time the incident was unpunished by referee Ian Gittins.
The striker appeared to clip Muir as he raced on to a lofted pass from Sean Myler but, with play allowed to continue, he calmly rounded Terry to slot home.
Into the second half, Clitheroe had a strong penalty appeal waved away as Hazeldine tumbled under a Steve Akrigg challenge before Hodkinson had a goal disallowed for offside.
Owen Wheeler was tested for the first time, getting down well to his left to make a good save from Michael Wilson.
The Blues gave themselves a lifeline 17 minutes from time when Max Hazeldine’s effort ricocheted off the legs of Akrigg and in to the net to reduce the arrears.
That gave Clitheroe a boost but they again had to rely on the services of Terry down the other end, as the impressive shot-stopper managed to tip a Hodkinson effort on to the bar.
Ashworth’s men grabbed the equaliser with 10 minutes remaining when blocks from Myler and Phil Mooney fell to Harry Pratt and the striker teed up Hazeldine to pick out the top corner.
Hazeldine was agonisingly denied his hat-trick with time running out when his powerful strike seemed destined for the net only for Wheeler to finger-tip the shot against the crossbar.
But there was still time for even more drama. And it was heart-breaking for Clitheroe.
The visitors poured forward on the counter, Hodkinson’s miscued attempt landed at George Lomax’s feet and the substitute’s first time shot took a wicked deflection to beat Terry.
In the aftermath, Ashworth said: “We struggled in the first half, there was a strong wind and it made a big difference. Conceding a penalty in the first 30 seconds makes it difficult.
“We conceded again, another sloppy goal to concede, though we knew if we came out in the second half and got the goal our tails would be up and we’d have a chance of winning.
“I thought we were absolutely outstanding in the second half, it’s probably the best we’ve played in a long time so to get sucker-punched like that in the 93rd minute is a killer. That’s the way things are going at the moment.”