WITTON Albion’s first defeat at home in the league this season felt costly afterwards, and not just because they conceded a decisive goal in the ninth minute of added time.
After discovering title-rivals Shaw Lane had slipped up too, losing at Basford, they will have winced at an opportunity missed.
The contest was nowhere near as thrilling as the result suggests, but Rugby Town’s resilience earned merited reward.
Their players’ joyous celebrations upon hearing the final whistle suggested as much.
Carl Macauley’s men were unrecognisable from the side that blew away Leek in midweek, although atrocious conditions and a heavy pitch did not help.
Despite being below their best, they led 2-1 shortly after the interval and also equalised in stoppage time – both reasons to be annoyed they didn’t collect at least a point on an off-day.
However, after a 13-match unbeaten run that has yielded 11 wins, it is unfair to be too harsh.
Albion, shorn of both Matty Devine and Rob Hopley through injury, started sluggishly, but Ryan Quinn’s opening goal – curled into the far corner from the edge of the penalty area – did not jolt them.
They did not piece together a coherent move until the 27th minute, when Will Jones’ header from Anthony Gardner’s cross prompted goalkeeper Louis Connor to save.
A leveller followed in the moments before half-time, Steven Tames staying calm to slide the ball past Rugby’s custodian after Jones’ flick sent him clear.
When Witton took the lead five minutes after the interval, they will have felt as if normal service had been resumed.
Tom Owens still had work to do after reaching Brad Bauress’ clever pass, but he nudged the ball between a defender’s legs before squaring for Jones to make it 2-1.
The job was not done though, and the Valley replied when Chris Sterling’s looping header from Robbie Parsons’ cross sneaked into the net.
Albion had time to conjure a winner, but they seemed weary and never ran up a head of steam.
That’s not to say they did not create chances.
Scott Lycett made room for a shot that flashed over after a Bauress corner dropped into his path, while Paul Williams drilled straight at Connor.
A defensive calamity gifted to Rugby a third goal with five minutes left.
Anthony Brown’s pass was intercepted, then Lycett’s attempted clearance charged down to leave substitute Aaron Moses-Garvey with only Calvin Hare to beat.
His finish was unerring.
Referee Lewis Smith, rather than caution Connor for his persistent time-wasting, instead added seven minutes after 90 were complete.
It felt deliciously ironic that Connor fumbled Williams’ free kick, leaving replacement Tolani Omotola to rifle in the loose ball, in the third of those.
But Rugby’s goalkeeper breathed a sigh of relief, which turned to a broad grin, when Sterling blasted past Hare at his near post from the final kick of the contest.
It struck a double blow against teams from Northwich, leaving as it does Vics – Albion’s tenants – seven points adrift of a position of safety at the foot of the table.
Witton | 4-4-2 | Hare (GK), Gardner, Brown, Lycett, Wilson, Haywood (Omotola 77), Williams, Owens, Bauress, Tames, Jones (Noon 87) Subs not used Hickman, Hinchliffe, Roberts (GK) Goals Tames 43, Jones 50, Omotola 90 (+3) Booked Brown (foul)
Rugby | 4-4-2 | Connor (GK), Print, Mason Rowley, Kyle Rowley (Moses-Garvey 68), Brathwaite, Parsons (Shakespeare 64), Thomson, Levi Rowley, Quinn, Kolodynski, Sterling Subs not used Fura, Campbell, Moran Goals Quinn 5, Sterling 54, 90 (+9), Moses-Garvey 85 Booked Thomson (foul), Parsons (simulation), Shakespeare (ungentlemanly conduct)
Referee Lewis Smith