Formby 0 1874 Northwich 0
A DRAW does just enough to leave everybody feeling doubtful.
Less so Formby, who know that wins from their two remaining matches will make sure they are promoted to the Premier Division along with champions-elect Nelson.
1874 Northwich need victories from successive home games, plus a helping hand from a rival.
The Squirrels, understandably after playing extra time during a cup final on Thursday night, were short on stamina by the finish.
But last season’s champions were strong enough emotionally to resist their guests’ late push to score.
They did so in relative comfort, save for substitute David Short shooting wildly off target after Mike Brandon had flicked the ball into his path.
Had that combination been the other way around, then Ian Street’s men might have had cause for celebration.
They shaded the second half, going desperately close to a goal during their most prolonged spell of pressure in the minutes after half time.
Daley Woods’ attempt was deflected past an upright after Brandon nudged a pass his way before hitting a forceful effort too close to stand-in goalkeeper Josh O’Connell from the resulting corner.
Brandon then flashed a drive across the face of goal before Formby steadied themselves again in defence.
The hosts neared a breakthrough too, most notably when Kieran Brislen’s dipping shot dropped narrowly wide after Jason Carey had nipped in front Mike Aston.
His next try, also from distance, forced Northwich custodian Matt Conkie to parry.
All of those were mere glimpses of goal though, and none of the misses glaring.
The teams’ respective leading scorers, Brandon and Carey, have almost 60 goals between them this season.
That they were restricted to one opportunity each – the latter headed too high from Kurt Sherlock’s corner after a quarter of an hour – is proof of defenders’ dominance.
With so much at stake and neither side wishing to contemplate – never mind risk – defeat, that should have surprised nobody present.
Formby’s best chance fell for Mark Kirby shortly after Carey’s attempt but, perhaps surprised a cross from the left reached him at the back post, his stabbed finish lacked direction.
1874 Northwich, buoyed by the noise generated by a huge traveling support, started aggressively.
The visitors felt they had smuggled a ball over the line from a corner, but the match officials did not agree.
Formby responded by showing the solidity that has helped them to win every home league game in 2014, becoming the first team to shut out Street’s side on their travels.
They too toiled at the other end to penetrate Division One’s most stingy backline – marshalled with authority by Aston.
“There was nothing to choose between us,” said Street afterwards.
“We did all we could to win, but that’s not an easy thing to do here.
“I said beforehand that a draw isn’t the end, though Formby are now slight favourites.”
1874 Northwich Star man: Craig Farnworth. Battling an injury, but gritted his teeth to perform admirably alongside Mike Aston in the visitors’ defence. Dominant in the air, was also solid on the ground in a battle with Formby striker Jason Carey.
Formby (4-4-2) Simpson (GK) (O’Connell (GK) 46), Brislen, Turner, White, Swatton, Sherlock, Molyneux, Speed, Adegbenro (Gibson 37), Kirby, Carey (Forsyth 80) Subs not used Smith, Language Booked Carey (retaliation)
1874 (4-2-3-1) Conkie (GK), Mitchell, Farnworth, Aston, Duckworth, Jones, Stewart (Short 78), Woods (Abdullah 68), Ward, Wellstead, Brandon Subs not used Bailey, Woolley, Lunn Booked Wellstead (handball), Jones (foul)
Referee Anthony Parkinson (Preston)