Shirebrook Town’s final league game before Christmas produced an unpredictably tense 3-2 win for the home side over plucky bottom club Louth Town at Langwith Road on Saturday.
The three precious points gained moved Shirebrook from seventh up to fifth place in the table, leapfrogging both Eccleshill United and Worsbrough Bridge Athletic on goal difference after both lost their own games.
Going into the game, the visitors had been beaten in all of their previous 14 outings and a win for Kevin Gee’s men seemed to be the most likely outcome.
But Louth were desperate for the points and they had other ideas, and it was they who opened the scoring after just three minutes, Chris Ella stunning Shirebrook with a simple far post header off Daniel Marsh’s ball into the box from halfway on the right.
So it wasn’t the best of starts for the home side and Gee’s men struggled for a while to get their game going until Jamie Brown fired the equaliser into the Louth net on 18 minutes from Aaron Moxam’s flick-on to the far post, off debutant Ricky Hanson’s corner on the left.
Shirebrook were back in it at last from that and Brown might have given the home side the lead seven minutes later when Louth central defender Andrew Appleby failed to deal with a high dropping ball from deep onto the edge of the box.
But visiting keeper Ben Smith was alert to the danger and a blocking save with his legs at the near post denied Brown his second goal.
However, just as they seemed to be gaining some control of the game, Shirebrook suffered a potentially huge setback when keeper Gavin Saxby went down with a leg injury just before the half-hour and was unable to continue.
Wth no reserve keeper on the bench, Saxby’s replacement had to be central defender Steve Wankiewicz, who began the game as one of the named substitutes, hoping no doubt to get onto the pitch at some stage during the afternoon, but probably not in this particular capacity.
Nevertheless, although Louth must have sniffed an opportunity, they rarely troubled the relatively inexperienced Wankiewicz and they were left to rue that when Shirebrook scored late in the half and took a 2-1 lead into the interval.
In a neat one touch move just outside the visitors’ box, Moxam laid the ball off and Danny Booth scored the home side’s second goal, drilling his shot low into the bottom corner of Smith’s net two minutes into four-and-a-half minutes of time added on at the end of the first half, most of that for the delay caused by Saxby’s unfortunate injury.
Despite a positive start to the second half by the visitors, Shirebrook would have been hoping to build on their slender lead, but Louth were handed an unexpected lifeline just eight minutes after the restart when a sloppy defensive mix up by the home side gifted them the ball, which led to an equalising goal from the boot of Joe Gale.
With that Louth must have thought Christmas had come early for them, and they looked to snatch the lead with Frazer Chapman and skipper Lee Croft both working Wankiewicz with shots from outside the Shirebrook box over the next 10 minutes.
It all seemed promising for the visitors, but Shirebrook top-scorer Moxam spoiled all that with just under 15 minutes to go, stealing in to head home unmarked at the far post off Hanson’s perfectly weighted free-kick from wide on the left.
The goal gave the home side a 3-2 lead and this time they were in no mood to give away any more presents.
Brown might have doubled Shirebrook’s advantage when he shaved the top of the Louth crossbar with four minutes to go, but that didn’t matter in the final reckoning, despite a long nervy four minutes of time added on at the end of the game by the referee.
Next up Shirebrook Town make the trip into North Yorkshire on Saturday to take on Knaresborough Town in the first of two important back-to-back league games with their tough top-half-of-the-table rivals.
SHIREBROK TOWN: Saxby (Wankiewicz 28), Witcombe, Claridge, Camm, Henshaw, Diuk (Thompson HT), Brown, Getliff, Moxam, Booth, Hanson. Subs not used: Clarke, Bacon.
LOUTH TOWN: Smith, Marsh, Leafe (Johnson 69), Stainton, Appleby, Chapman, Rawlings, Hyland, Croft, Ella, Gale. Subs not used: Marshall.
REFEREE: Paul Saunders of South Yorkshire.