THE race for promotion continues at an unrelenting pace.
Their team unable, for now at least, to perform an overtaking move on those ahead, 1874 Northwich fans had a wonder goal from leading marksman Michael Brandon to marvel at instead.
His spectacular looping effort, sent left-footed over Atherton goalkeeper Joshua Harris from 25 yards, was the highlight of an otherwise routine home win on Saturday.
Ian Street’s men have won 10 of 11 Division One encounters played since losing to Nelson at the start of December, yet they remain three points adrift of second-placed Formby.
They were too good for their latest guests after surviving an initial scare when Matty Boland shot into the side netting.
At the other end, Craig Farnworth headed narrowly wide and Stuart Wellstead saw an attempt smuggled off the line as 1874 gradually assumed control.
Ben Hardcastle twice went close for Atherton, who fell behind after half an hour when Rick Bailey – after Brandon had combined with Lee Duckworth – fired low into the bottom corner.
Harris reacted smartly to stop Danny Thomas’ header from finding the net shortly afterwards, before Brandon had a goal ruled out.
The home team moved further ahead during the initial exchanges after half time, Wellstead converting from the penalty spot following Adam McKillop’s foul on Brandon.
After Northwich custodian Matt Conkie had thwarted Jordan Cover with a boot, McKillop’s next contribution was to block Brandon’s attempt after substitute Daley Woods had provided an assist.
Not to be denied, the striker ran beyond Atherton’s defence to reach Lee Jones’ lofted ball before sealing his entry for this season’s best goal competition.
1874 Conkie (GK), Mitchell, Farnworth, Thomas, Duckworth, Abdullah, Jones, Bailey (Short 71), Wellstead (Woods 62), Brandon, Ward (Woolley 83) Subs not used Aston, Bowyer
Atherton LR Harris (GK), Battersby (Berry 46), Boothby, McKay, McKillop, Dickinson, Holt, Hardcastle, Cover (Heapy 71), Boland, Shaw Sub not used Brooks
Referee Michael Barlow