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Marine make Witton pay for a slow start as they end wait to beat Albion at home that started in 1996
DO something often enough and it risks becoming a habit.
Witton’s slow starts have left them playing catch-up in each of their past three league matches although on this occasion, unlike the others, they could not rescue a point.
Nor did they look likely to.
The result means Albion are now in the longest sequence without a win since their return to the Premier Division, although three of those four games have ended in parity.
In each exists a common flaw; sluggish from the whistle, Witton are ceding the initiative to their opponents too often.
Marine made the most of it, scoring in the ninth minute and fluffing a chance to settle the outcome soon afterwards.
After successive home defeats, it was just the tonic.
Witton, in mitigation, were forced to switch goalkeepers in the minutes before kick off after regular custodian Matt Cooper failed a fitness test.
His stand-in, Stuart Plant, has never played at this level.
With recent new recruit Danny Meadowcroft also making his debut in defence, the visitors veered towards caution.
They trailed when Jon Goulding ghosted into the penalty area to thump an emphatic header, unmarked, past Plant after Will Jones crossed from the left.
When Jones scuffed a feeble attempt too close to Plant, after Paul Lundon had drifted too easily past two tackles, Witton’s wobbles were a worry.
They flickered when Steve Foster steered in a loose ball after Oliver James’ shot was deflected in his direction, but it was disallowed for offside.
Josh Hancock at least made Marine goalkeeper Ryan McMahon make a save on 38 minutes, tipping over a direct free kick.
The duo played repeated the trick within 60 seconds, this time the hosts’ number one stretching further to save.
Witton started the second half with purpose too, Hancock slicing wide when well-placed before John Shaw blocked Foster’s goal-bound attempt.
Manager Brian Pritchard sent on ex-Mariner Shaun Tuck, who put a pep previously missing into his side’s play.
Goulding’s tackle diverted the Albion top scorer’s first shot, then referee Richard Bartlett rejected the forward’s penalty appeal after Matthew Brown grabbed his arm in the box.
Marine reminded their guests of their attacking threat when Nick Rogan sent Jones clear, Plant positioning himself perfectly to smother.
He was helpless a minute later, Rogan converting coolly from the spot after Albion skipper Anthony Sheehan’s rash lunge had sent sprawling substitute Michael Ordish.
Ben Harrison picked Rogan’s pocket as he shaped to shoot, while at the other end Foster’s shot lacked direction after substitute Mike Moseley headed on.
Jones added gloss when his headed rebound, after Plant had dived at full stretch to parry replacement Liam Rice’s drive, sneaked in off an upright despite the keeper’s best effort.
Marine, so meek in defeat at Wincham Park in October, had shown why they have been in the table’s top five from the season’s first week.
They ended at the same time a wait to beat Witton on their own pitch that started in 1996.
Witton Star Man: Ben Harrison. And by a distance, too. The Witton central defender’s timing, both in the air and in the tackle, was flawless. And in testing circumstances, for a goalkeeper behind him and a stopper alongside were making their debut in Albion’s defence.
Marine (4-4-2) McMahon (GK), Dowling, Brown, Grannon, John Shaw, Noon (Rice 66), Goulding, Lawton, Lundon (Ordish 24), Will Jones, Rogan. Subs not used Devine, Paul Jones, Burton. Goals Goulding 9, Rogan 73 (penalty), Jones 90. Booked Dowling, Brown (both foul).
Witton (4-5-1) Plant (GK), Gardner, Ben Harrison, Meadowcroft, Wood, Andrews, Sheehan, James (Moseley 82), Joe Shaw (Tuck 61), Hancock, Foster. Subs not used Booth, Glover. Booked Foster (dissent), Sheehan (foul).
Referee Richard Bartlett (Sale)