Shirebrook Town’s 13-game unbeaten NCEL run came to a disappointing end on Saturday as they slumped to a 3-0 defeat against tough top half of the table rivals Pontefract Collieries at the White Rose Stadium, Pontefract.
Like fifth-placed Shirebrook, fourth-placed Pontefract themselves had a long unbeaten run to defend, it being 15 games since the West Yorkshire side last tasted defeat.
But, more importantly, there were three valuable league points up for grabs and the home side were first to stake a claim, Liam Radford looking suspiciously offside before outpacing his marker and racing down the left to slot the ball past former Pontefract keeper Sam Andrew in the Shirebrook goal on seven minutes.
That was a setback for the visitors who struggled to get their usual passing game going, even though Ricky Hanson almost put them back on level terms four minutes later with a free kick from 25 yards on the left that went just narrowly over the Pontefract crossbar.
The game settled into a close midfield tussle after that, but the home side finished the half the stronger and almost doubled their advantage going into the interval after Andrew raced off his line to clear a 50-50 ball outside his area.
But the attempt was blocked and the ball fell kindly again for Pontefract, and Andrew was still out of his goal when the ball came back in again.
However, Shirebrook somehow survived as the unchallenged shot that followed was cleared off the line.
So there was still all to play for at the start of the second half, but all of that changed five minutes after the restart when the home side scored their second goal of the game.
It came from Josh Corbett’s inswinging corner from the right, which found the head of central defender Nigel Danby six yards out.
But the header was blocked on the line and the ball fell inside the crowded six-yard area before eventually going over the line, with the visitors claiming that Danby had used his hand to help it in.
Nevertheless, the goal was allowed to stand and 10 minutes later Pontefract might have had another, but Kyle Hawthorn put his 18-yard shot from the right wide of the far post, when he really should have done better with just Andrew in the Shirebrook goal to beat.
Four minutes after that Shirebrook almost pulled one back, but Steve Wankiewicz’s close range header from Danny Claridge’s corner on the right was cleared off the line with Pontefract keeper Craig Parry well beaten.
At the other end Grant found the target three minutes later, but the visitors continued to press and Reece Twell almost marked his Shirebrook debut with a goal when he very nearly found the bottom corner at the far post from 22 yards on the right, but Parry was equal to the effort.
A minute after that Radford had another chance for Pontefract, but, nine minutes further on, as the contest entered its final 10 minutes, Shirebrook suffered another blow when top scorer Aaron Moxam was red-carded.
From the sidelines it looked like a Pontefract player had ploughed into Moxam from behind, but the match referee must have seen something afterwards that he didn’t like and the unfortunate Shirebrook striker got his marching orders on 82 minutes.
The sending-off looked harsh and then, as if to add a final insult to 10-man Shirebrook’s misery, Brenton Leister scored Pontefract’s third goal from 12 yards on the right with just two minutes of the game remaining, although Twell might have made the scoreline a little more palatable with a shot from 18 yards deep into the five minutes of time added on at the end, but Parry was keen to preserve his second clean sheet in the last two games.
Next up Shirebrook take a welcome break from league matters when they return to Langwith Road on Tuesday evening for the visit of North West Counties Premier Division side Glossop North End in the Derbyshire Senior Challenge Cup quarter-finals. Kick-off is at 7.45pm.
That is followed with a return to the hunt for league points when Shirebrook stay at Langwith Road next Saturday for the visit of Hall Road Rangers from north of the Humber (3pm).
PONTEFRACT COLLIERIES: Parry, Twibey, Corbett, Danby, Staley, Kamara, Catton (Robinson), Leister, Radford, Grant (Weatherald 86), Hawthorn (Robinson 88). Subs not used: Simpson, Perks.
SHIREBROOK TOWN: Andrew, Hanson, Claridge, Diuk, Henshaw (Wankiewicz HT), Witcombe, Twell, Getliff (Hall 62), Moxam, Booth, Ryan (Rowley 56). Subs not used: Bacon, Brown.
REFEREE: Michael Brownsett of West Yorkshire.