Warrington Town closed the gap at the top to two points and jumped above South Shields after a 2-1 victory over Stalybridge Celtic at Bower Fold.
The Yellows opened the scoring in the first half through Tony Gray’s delightful free-kick, before Dylan Vassallo doubled their advantage early in the second half.
The hosts did pull one back through Neil Kengni with 15 minutes remaining, but Town stood firm in the closing stages to pick up yet another crucial win.
Paul Carden made two changes to the side that overcame Scarborough last weekend, as Dylan Vassallo and Jack Mackreth returned in place of Marcus Cusani and the injured Josh Amis.
The Yellows dictated the early running of the game with their typically crisp passing, but it was Stalybridge who had the opening chance as former Warrington man Scott Bakkor’s low snapshot was comfortably saved by Tony McMillan.
However, the visitors continued to press, and shortly after McMillan reacted quickly to clear the danger following Dave Raven’s misplaced header, Gray had a chance to score but could only divert Jack Mackreth’s cross narrowly wide.
Shortly after, the two Town attackers combined once again and forged an opportunity which should’ve culminated in the opening goal. After Gray’s hopeful ball forward was missed by the retreating Douglas Nyaupembe, Mackreth broke into the area and saw his side-footed strike roll agonisingly wide of the left-hand post.
Nevertheless, Warrington’s dominance in terms of possession and chances did eventually tell as they took the lead after 25 minutes in quite sensational fashion. After Jack Dunn was hauled down on the edge of the area, Gray stepped up to take the free-kick and blasted his effort into the top corner beyond the despairing dive of Paddy Wharton.
Chances were at a premium for the remainder of the half as good defence from either side snuffed out any real hint of an opening. However, Vassallo did appeal for a penalty after being seemingly felled inside the Celtic box, but referee Jamie Rhodes waved away his protests.
The resumption of the second half gave the Yellows a new lease of life and they had two big chances to double their advantage within the first three minutes of the restart, as first, Dunn was found in the area after Robbie Evans did superbly to keep Mitch Duggan’s deep cross in play, but he mishit his effort at the vital moment.
Less than two minutes later, Evans linked up excellently with Dunn down the left and stood up a delightful cross which Ben Garrity could only head over from the centre of the penalty area.
Nevertheless, they did bag a second on 54 minutes, and Gray was once again integral to the goal. After being given too much space on the left, the 35-year-old sprayed a delightful cross-field ball straight into the feet of Vassallo, who did well to control with his left before slotting it into the far corner past the onrushing Wharton.
Vassallo had a golden chance to double his goal tally for the afternoon five minutes later, but after being picked out by Jack Dunn’s ball in from the left, he opted to leave it for Mackreth who saw his low shot well blocked by Nyaupembe.
Once again, Mackreth was denied a spot on the scoresheet after being played through by Vassallo with 20 minutes remaining. Despite taking the ball under his spell expertly, the Stalybridge defence got back well and blocked his driven effort.
Despite being under the cosh for the majority of the second half, the hosts did half the deficit with 15 minutes remaining as Kengni reacted first to a loose ball to slot home after a corner was only half-cleared by the Warrington defence.
Regardless of the setback, the Yellows continued to press forward and would’ve claimed a third, had Wharton not managed to tip behind Evans’ in-swinging cross from the left touchline.
As the game entered stoppage time, both sides had chances to score, as Matty Wolfenden headed narrowly over the top, before Vassallo was denied in the Celtic area by the outstretched leg of Wharton.
Nevertheless, Town remained solid for the final few seconds and deservedly held on for their fifth consecutive victory.
Stalybridge Celtic: Wharton, Solomon-Davies, Nyaupembe (Cockerline 80), Wilkinson, Smalley, Tongue, Bakkor, Rule, Kengni, Wolfenden, Howard (Scott 57)
Subs not used: Marx, Lees, Winterbottom
Warrington Town: McMillan, Duggan, Roberts, Raven, Hughes, Garrity, Evans, Mackreth (Benjamin 82), Dunn (Cusani 66), Vassallo, Gray (McCarthy 62)
Subs not used: Dixon, Whittle