THIS was a match both managers hoped would kick-start their team’s season, and when Matty Devine delivered a last-minute winner it was Witton left stalled.
Goal difference, for now, keeps them from the relegation zone.
Marine had not won in six Premier Division matches, a sequence that was set to continue when Jon Dawson put Albion in front at the start of the second half.
Brian Pritchard’s men have won only once away from home in the league since August, but they had punished the hosts – and in particular striker Karl Noon – for their wastefulness in attack before the break.
Twice the forward came face-to-face with goalkeeper Matt Cooper after simple, straight passes had split Witton’s defence, though on both occasions the net-minder blocked brilliantly.
Afterwards, Pritchard reflected that by scoring his side had prompted Marine to awaken from their own slumber. He was right.
Though Albion defended stoutly, they still owed a debt to Cooper for a string of saves.
He denied Noon again after Dale Wright’s cute chip had conjured a chance, then Devine drilled off target after Rob Bodie’s tackle deflected the ball kindly into the winger’s path.
By the time Jonathan Goulding’s dipping attempt from distance forced Cooper to claw the ball from his top corner, Marine were the better side.
Two moments might have made a mockery of that though.
First, home team midfielder Lee Parle should have been sent off for a reckless, two-footed lunge at Danny Andrews when Witton’s winger reached first a ball to the flank.
Referee Peter Gooch, inept making so many routine decisions that the cumulative impact of his performance left Pritchard incensed, got a big one wrong too.
Shortly afterwards Dawson came close to doubling his tally when, served by substitute Aaron Rey, his shot was redirected sufficiently by goalkeeper Zac Hibbert’s intervention that it trickled wide.
Buoyed, Marine resumed pursuit of a result that for them will be restorative.
They managed parity with a quarter hour left when Shaun Dowling and Wright combined on the right, the latter scooping a cross to the far post where Jamie Rainford waited to apply the finishing touch with his head.
Though Witton resisted, a match-winning goal for Marine felt inevitable. That defensively it was a disaster helped little.
Rainford, following a quickly-taken free kick, slid the ball into Devine’s path as he sneaked unnoticed into the penalty area.
Albion’s defence was so tardy to react, he had time to spin and shoot despite Cooper closing in on him.
In stoppage time, the custodian contorted his body to tip substitute Michael Monaghan’s deflected attempt onto the crossbar.
Witton, aesthetically superior in possession than Marine, had taken 37 minutes to work Hibbert in the first half – the on-loan shot-stopper blocking Josh Hancock’s well-struck effort.
They did so seldom in the second period. And therein, still, is their problem.
Witton Star Man: Jonathan Breeze. Recovered possession for his team on countless occasions with blocks, timed tackles or interceptions. Has become an integral part of Witton’s defensive set-up since signing.
Marine (4-4-2) Hibbert (GK), Dowling, Barnes, Shaw, Corrigan, Goulding, Wright, Parle, Devine, Noon (Monaghan 61), Rainford Subs not used Grannon, Rendell, Lawton, Jones Goals Rainford 75, Devine 89 Booked Parle, Shaw (both fouls)
Witton (4-5-1) Cooper (GK), Gardner, Bodie, Harrison, Brown, Andrews, Breeze, Powell, Dawson (Crofts 83), Hancock, Parkhouse (Rey 70) Subs not used Plant (GK), Moyo, Moseley Goal Dawson 51 Booked Bodie, Powell, Brown (all fouls)
Referee Peter Gooch (Wigan)