Karl Pacheco’s strike five minutes from time settled a tight top-of-the-table tussle between the under-15s of FC Rangers and Squires Gate Reds which could prove a key result in the three-way title race.
Both managers agreed this was a crunch clash, but the hosts couldn’t take their chances at Boundary Park and the Reds were clinical when it really mattered to emerge with a 1-0 victory.
Reds boss Joshua Strachan admitted Rangers were on top in the first half and put his team under the cosh, though determined defending restricted their chances.
The second half was more evenly contested and it was the Reds who made the vital breakthrough when centre-half Pacheco came up for a corner and volleyed home.
The heavy conditions weren’t helped by rain during the match but that didn’t prevent the players from digging deep and putting their bodies on the line.
Goalkeeper John Dowie was exceptional for Squires Gate and made a string of fine saves to collect their man of the match award.
The best of these came when he spread himself to thwart Taylor Fort in a one against one situation 10 minutes before the goal.
When Dowie did find himself beaten by a Josh Edwards free-kick, the ball rebounded off the bar.
But hard as Rangers pressed for a late equaliser, they could not force a share of the spoils.
The victory sees Squires Gate Reds and Kirkham Reds pull three points clear of Rangers at the top with games in hand.
There are still plenty of fixtures to play but the clash between the top two next month is already shaping up to be a crucial contest.
Rangers assistant boss Darren Marshall, standing in for Jon Meadows, admits it will be tough for his side to overtake the top two now.
He said: “We were well on top and they scored from their only shot. We had a lot of chances and were very unlucky to concede.
“This was a really important game and I don’t think we can win the league now, but we still have a strong chance in the Hogan Cup and will be doing everything we can to be successful.”
Winning manager Joshua Strachan said: “This was always going to be a good, close game between two good teams.
“They controlled the first half and maybe we just edged the second, when they had chances but we had the better ones.
“Our whole team defended really well and our passion and work rate were excellent.”
Midfielder Armin Khodabakhsh was the Rangers star players, keeping the visitors under pressure.