Ashton Athletic 0 Squires Gate 2: It's survival Saturday
Two second-half goals secured the victory Gate needed to cement their North West Counties League Premier Division status '“ and relegate neighbours AFC Blackpool.
However, it took a last-minute strike by Joe Noblet to finally ease the nerves after Mark Buchan’s penalty had given Gate the lead on a tense afternoon on which any three of the bottom five could have gone down.
Manager Danny Penswick recalled Buchan up front, as well as Jake Higham and Nathan Trout in defence.
The visitors started with an impressive urgency, Ryan Riley firing over from a free-kick after five minutes.
Ashton keeper Mark Pearson then had to be alert to collect a through ball before Buchan could pounce.
The home side’s best chance of the half came on 19 minutes when Isaac Kusaloka dispossessed Trout and relaaed Danny Smith, only for the striker to fire over.
The hosts went close again on 25 minutes, when Franny Barry tried to catch out keeper Ben Fletcher but placed his shot onto the roof of the net.
The last chance of the half fell to Gate, when Higham drilled a superb ball into the path of Ryan but his pull back was just behind Buchan.
The half ended goalless but Gate knew any win would be enough provided Alsager did not win by five more at Maine Road – a highly unlikely outcome as the Stoke side trailed 1-0 at the interval.
Gate’s Jamie Gibson saw a thunderous strike from outside the box saved by Pearson on 52 minutes, and seven minutes later, it took a marvellous one-handed save by Fletcher to tip over Joel Brownhill’s effort and keep Gate on terms.
By the hour mark, Alsager had turned their deficit into a 2-1 lead, meaning Gate were down unless they snatched a winner.
And the breakthrough arrived on 63 minutes, when Riley was pushed in the back inthe box and Buchan held his nerve to convert the penalty.
There would have been great controversy had Gate not held on because they had a goal amazingly ruled out.
Noblet’s 40-yard thunderbolt flew in off the post, but bounced back off the perimeter fence behind the goal so quickly the officials did not realise what had happened and waved play on.
Controversy was thankfully avoided as Ashton never really threatened, and Maine Road’s equaliser against Alsager meant one goal would be enough for Gate.
They went close to a second on 84 minutes, when a slice from a Gate corner would have led to an own goal but for smart reflexes by Pearson, but Noblet then scored the goal he deserved to end any doubts.
Substitute Ryan Tanser pulled the ball back for Noblet to sidefoot home and prompt screams of joy on the Gate bench and among the players.
Darwen secured survival by coming from behind to beat Cammell Laird 4-1, while at the other end Colne took the title by two points from Runcorn Linnets after both won on the final day.