Clitheroe manager Lee Ashforth was proud of the way his players handled the pressure of a ‘must win’ game against Glossop North End to all but assure themselves of a place in the Evo-Stik League West Division next season.
The Blues boasted a miserly 13% strike rate at Shawbridge this term, with victories over Droylsden and Skelmersdale United recorded months ago, but a goal in either half from Max Hazeldine massaged that statistic ever-so-slightly to lift them clear of danger.
And with it came the club’s first clean sheet in 22 league games as they matched the result in the reverse fixture against the Hillmen at the Arthur Goldthorpe Stadium in October.
“The pressure going in to this game was big,” said Ashforth. “It was a game that we felt as a management team we needed to win.
“Glossop were just above us in the league going in to today and they’d been on a good run of form; they were three or four unbeaten. We had to put in a professional performance.
“Clean sheets are important, if you keep one then it gives you a good chance of winning games. We’ve done that today.
“Ben [Purdham] has made a couple of saves, which he made well, but the lads put their bodies on the line and that’s what I expect from this group of players.”
Clitheroe shaded the early exchanges as Hazeldine’s attempt whistled past the post while Jay Jeffries went close on the 20 minute mark.
Antoine Recizak was wasteful when taking debutant Bevan Burey’s cross first time while, at the opposite end, Mason Duffy’s volley from Pete Boyle’s delivery dropped just wide of the upright.
Michael Wilson’s set-piece kissed the woodwork on the way out for a goal kick as the home side threatened once more but Hazeldine opened the scoring in the 39th minute.
Glossop’s vulnerability was their high defensive line, something Purdham exploited in the build up.
The goalkeeper’s clearance over the top left Clitheroe’s leading scorer with just Matthew Holmes to beat and the striker made no mistake, slotting in to the net with his instep from an unfavourable angle.
Boyle tested Purdham with a header in the second half as the visitors looked to draw level while Kayde Coppin forced the keeper in to a low diving save.
Hazeldine hit his second of the afternoon with 20 minutes remaining, converting Burey’s pull back from the right hand side to put daylight between the two sides. That, in turn, saw the hosts leapfrog the Peakites in the table.
A late Jack Tuohy freekick rattled the woodwork and a few other half chances came and went but the Blues held on for a vital three points and a long-awaited home win.
“It was always going to be a concern that we’d brought in a lot of new players and there were questions over whether they’d gel or not,” Ashforth said. “I thought they put a brilliant shift in. They played really well.
“We’ve rebuilt the squad again, we’ve had to keep going, and as a management team we’ve never given up, we’ve never got downhearted.
“The players have got to be exactly the same, it’s very important that we keep battling away.
“I won’t stop what I’m doing, I won’t stop doing what I enjoy doing and I’ll do everything I can to make sure that we’re a success as long as I’m at this football club.”
Meanwhile, on Tuesday evening, Clitheroe picked up another point on their road to recovery but they were denied all three with the last kick of the game away at Trafford.
The Blues were just seconds away from recording back-to-back wins for only the second time this season only for the home side to strike in the 94th minute at Shawe View.
Leading scorer Max Hazeldine gave the Blues the lead in the first half when cutting inside on to his right foot and curling a shot past Matt Cooper and in to the top corner.
The visitors looked like they would hang on for maximum reward but, with time almost up, Jimmy Moore tucked the ball past Ben Purdham from close range after a high ball caused a melee inside the penalty area.
With Clitheroe moving on to 27 points, boss Lee Ashforth said: “We said it was a big week for this club. Can we finish the season well? Can we get to the 30 points that I said would be the safety?
“We’re probably safe now but from our point of view we want to get to 30 points.”