Alfreton Town reached the dizzy heights of 18th in the Vanarama Conference after beating Nuneaton Town in a dour affair at the lmpact Arena on Saturday.
It was the third win in a week for the Reds, who climbed five places as a result, and having lost their first seven games of the campaign Alfreton have at last been able to ease relegation worries.
This latest win was a hard fought one against a Nuneaton side currently without a manager, and until David Mellor settled nerves 17 minutes into the second half it had been the visitors who looked more likely to break the deadlock.
Former Reds Theo Streete and Connor Franklin lined up against their old club, whilst Anton Brown’s return to his footballing roots meant only a place on the bench after originally appearing on the Warwickshire side’s team-sheet as starting the game.
lt was no surprise that manager Nicky Law kept the same side that had beaten AFC Telford United, although it had needed agreement from Sheffield United in midweek for striker Joe Ironside to extend his loan spell by a further two months.
Cameron Dawson continues to improve as rapidly as the team in general, the Reds’ goalkeeper pulling off numerous saves to prevent the visitors from taking the spoils as Alfreton ground out their first win in six attempts against Nuneaton.
Just 78 seconds had ticked by when Dawson sprang to his left to keep out Craig Curran’s shot after Exodus Geohaghan had flicked on Lee Fowler’s free-kick, then for a spell the game was played almost entirely within the Alfreton half without Nuneaton actually causing too many problems.
Eighteen minutes had elapsed before the Reds’ first noteworthy incursion, a deep Bradley Wood cross drifting inches wide, then another Wood delivery four minutes later picked out Karl Hawley with keeper Reice Charles-Cook parrying before blocking Chris Smith’s follow-up.
Curran fired wide of the back post from an Adam Walker cross as Nuneaton picked up the pace, then Dawson held Fowler’s 32nd minute free-kick under pressure from Walker and Ryan Smith wasted another chance for them after defying the off-side trap and racing clear down the right.
Alfreton regained their composure on the stroke of half-time, a slick build-up involving Hawley and Andi Thanoj feeding Ironside who lost his footing at the critical moment.
There was still time before the interval for Andy Brown to head over from another Fowler free-kick, then three minutes after the break Franklin was well wide from distance with a hopeful shot.
Mellor’s determination saw him sprint along the by-line after dispossessing Streete in the 54th minute, but no-one was able to convert the cross, then at the other end a long throw from Geohaghan led to Dawson making a remarkable double save, the keeper having to change direction to block from Brown after parrying from Walker.
The air of uncertainty lifted considerably in the 62nd minute after Tom Shaw had embarked on a darting run before finding Hawley on the right, his pull-back from the by-line hooked in from six yards at the near post by Mellor to give Alfreton the lead.
Nuneaton were visibly stunned, the Reds grew in confidence and Hawley hammered the ball towards goal from 22 yards only to see it take a late deflection to settle in the arms of Charles-Cook, then Gareth Dean had to block Hawley’s shot at source from Jordan Keane’s 66th minute pass.
Seven minutes later Shaw thought he had succeeded with a free-kick that the keeper must have spotted late in flight and only just managed to scramble the ball behind at the foot of the post.
There were a couple of isolated chances for Nuneaton late in the game, Franklin’s driven cross from the left attentively held by Dawson, while Geohaghan really should have equalised with a towering header from Fowler’s 88th minute free-kick but steered it wide of the target from close range.
ALFRETON: Dawson; Wood, Smith, Graham, Rowe-Turner, Shaw, Thanoj (Keane 58), Howell, Mellor, Hawley (Bradley 90+1), Ironside.
Subs: Clayton, Sheridan, McDonald. Att: 600.