AFC Fylde regained their nine point lead at the top of Vanarama National North with a gritty home victory over a resolute Alfreton Town.
It looked like it was to be another frustrating 90 minutes for the Coasters until two second-half strikes in eight minutes from Alfreton old boy Dan Bradley and Caspar Hughes sealed a crucial three points at Mill Farm.
Manager Dave Challinor was forced into two changes from the side that lost at Curzon Ashton on Saturday as Fylde returned to action after a two-week break, with Richie Baker and Steve Williams coming in for injured defenders Josh Langley and Macauley Wilson.
It was the third meeting of the season between these sides – Fylde winning 5-3 in Derbyshire, where they were then knocked out of the FA Cup in September.
Last night the Coasters enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges, with both Andy Bond and Danny Rowe having half-chances but nothing to test Fabian Spiess in the Alfreton goal.
The hosts were presented with a glorious opportunity in the 10th minute, when Bradley crossed for the unmarked Brendon Daniels but the winger headed his effort into the ground and over the bar.
Daniels then almost turned provider when he whipped in a vicious first- time cross from the left that glanced off the top of Rowe’s head and away to safety.
The Coasters continued their dominance as the half wore on and Bradley looked likely to open the scoring against his former club with a goalbound low shot but the ball was somehow kept out by a fantastic save from keeper Spiess.
Alfreton hit back with a chance of their own as Thomas Allan advanced down the left before letting fly with a ferocious strike that stung the palms of Rhys Taylor in the Fylde goal.
Adam Priestley had another great opening for the visitors when a cross from the left found him unmarked on the six-yard line but he couldn’t capitalise and his weak attempt spun wide.
After a lull in play, Hardy looked to make inroads with a dazzling run on the edge of the Alfreton box. He played in Daniels, whose strike from 18 yards was deflected over the bar.
Bradley then lashed over from the resultant corner.
The visitors flew out of the traps after the break and really should have taken the lead when striker Paul Clayton raced clean through.
However, Taylor was quickly off his line and Williams completed the clearance in the nick of time.
Allan headed into the arms of Taylor shortly afterwards as the Reds continued to press.
Rowe passed up a fantastic chance to put his side ahead when he was played in by Hardy, but the striker chose to cut back on to his left rather than shoot first time and an untimely slip saw the opportunity vanish.
Fylde had started to grasp a hold of the game by the hour mark and Bradley wasn’t far away with a dipping volley from 20 yards.
The Coasters finally made the breakthrough with 20 minutes to play.
Hardy played in Bradley on halfway and the frontman charged forward at pace to the edge of the box. His eventual strike deflected off a defender to wrongfoot the goalkeeper and find the back of the net.
Fylde had the wind in their sails and Rowe tested Spiess with a wicked free-kick from an impossible angle.
Seconds later the Coasters had a crucial second goal. Rowe played a corner out to Hughes and the midfielder found the top corner with a sublime strike from 30 yards.
Substitute Matty Hughes almost wrapped it up in the final minute of normal time but his first-time effort from Bohan Dixon’s cross rifled over the bar.
Fylde manager Dave Challinor said the win over Alfreton was more important than the performance – and he will settle for the same again at home to Altrincham on Saturday.
The Coasters boss said: “On the back of a disappointing result and performance on Saturday at Curzon, it was very important to win this game. We were by far from our best but at this stage of the season it’s about chalking wins off.
“If the same happens this weekend, then we would absolutely take it. We know Altrincham will be a difficult game for us and it’s a quick turnaround, so we need to recover quickly and go into it looking to pick up another three points.
“We started to wonder where a goal was going to come from. If Brendon had scored inside the opening 10 minutes it could have been a different game because it would have given ourselves and the crowd a boost.
“The first half was lacking in tempo and we told the lads at half-time to keep plugging away and hopefully a goal would come.
“It came about from defending a corner well and breaking away, and there was a real energy and desire to get forward and finish off the move.
“The second goal was a fantastic finish and settled any lingering doubts about the outcome of the game. Now we need to back it up at the weekend.”
AFC Fylde: Taylor, Baker, Collins, Williams, Kennedy, Bond, C. Hughes, Bradley, Hardy (Dixon 79), Daniels (M. Hughes 59), Rowe (Blinkhorn 86); Not used: Thompson, Tasdemir
Alfreton: Speiss, Wilson, Heaton, Kennedy, McGowan, Shelton, Nyoni (Marshall 85), Monkhouse, Clayton (Smith 85), Allan (Westcarr 83), Priestley; Not used: Gascoigne, Jordan
Ref: Darren Strain; Att: 1,503