WITTON Albion were again left feeling frustrated that their endeavour was met with scant reward.
But it says much about the job Carl Macauley has performed in his brief time at Wincham Park that managers of both title rivals have puffed their cheeks with relief at hearing the full-time whistle in games against his side.
He had inherited a disjointed group within which a split had been allowed to fester.
His players were exhausted by the end, but Northwich fans demonstrated their discomfort by imploring referee Alex Kirkley to bring the contest to an end.
That felt an unlikely outcome when Richie Bennett swept in a second goal for the league leaders five minutes after the interval.
Sharpness blunted by playing only once since an FA Cup exit at Northampton more than three weeks ago, Jim Gannon’s men were below their best.
But they remained ruthless, and punished Albion errors.
Their reward is to start January, a testing month during which they play three rivals directly below them in the table, still occupying first place.
A slow start almost had a jolt when Brian Summerskill’s driven cross skidded too far in front of Richie Bennett.
However Witton, as they were against Warrington Town on Boxing Day, were more prominent in attack.
Jamie Menagh’s low effort prompted Vics goalkeeper Mason Springthorpe to save smartly to his right midway through the opening period.
He repeated the trick, although by diving in the opposite direction, when Danny Andrews tried his luck later.
Albion’s tenants posed a considerable threat from set pieces, and Bennett’s header was deflected over by a defender when he met a Summerskill corner.
Witton custodian Andy Firth attempted to claim the next flag kick, only to look back in horror when Gary Burnett nudged the ball over the line after he had missed it completely.
Burnett flashed an effort wide straight from the kick off after the break, but Vics did not have to wait long to double their tally.
After Menagh was caught in possession, Summerskill’s centre was met sweetly by an alert Bennett at the near post.
Alex Titchiner sent a shot straight at Springthorpe after Andrews’ weighted pass landed in his path as Witton attempted to recover.
Macauley switched to a three-man defence after adding Jamie Matthews to his attack, and Gannon responded quickly by strengthening his defence with substitute Cedric Krou.
After conceding only twice during a league game in Wincham this season, he backs his men to protect a two-goal lead.
Witton did halve the deficit on 72 minutes, when Rob Hopley leapt higher than Springthorpe to guide Michael Wilson’s cross into an empty net.
The resulting adrenaline rush kept Albion going.
Andrews blazed over in stoppage time, while Ryan Ellison slipped as he stretched to reach Hopley’s flick-on from captain Anthony Gardner’s long throw.
By then, they were a team running on empty.
For Vics, it’s a derby double after a 2-1 win in August.
Vics | 4-3-1-2 | Springthorpe (GK), Byrne, Michael Clarke, Astles, Duxbury, Summerskill, Ball (Cook 84), Roddy, Howard, Burnett (Krou 69), Bennett (Amis 76) Subs not used Smith (GK), Ali Goal Burnett 43, Bennett 50 Booked Amis (foul)
Witton | 4-4-2 | Firth (GK), Gardner, Ellison, Wilson, Dawson (Matthews 61), Andrews, Reeves, Schofield, Menagh, Titchiner (Brewster 79), Hopley Subs not used Garner (GK), Bainbridge Goal Hopley 72 Booked Dawson, Schofield (both fouls)
Referee Alex Kirkley