WITTON Albion are in unfamiliar territory, both in the table and out on the field.
Pointless, they find themselves safe from last place only by Stafford after suffering a sequence of three defeats for the first time in four years.
What isn’t a strange sensation so far this season – one that is likely to worry manager Brian Pritchard – is watching them crumble quickly in adversity.
As in midweek against Marine, Witton led and assumed control.
This time they were more comfortable than then, only for a freak goal by the visitors to leave them veering off course when heading for a first win of term.
That Albion, even performing below their fluid best, should struggle so much to recover from such a setback is reason for their unexpected results record.
In fact, this is now their worst start ever to a Northern Premier League season.
Barwell’s belief was buoyed by their good fortune; full back Luke Blakely, setting himself to cross, instead arced an intended centre over goalkeeper Matt Cooper’s head.
It restored parity, simultaneously draining the hosts’ fragile confidence.
Albion had not been in trouble, yet nor had they killed off opponents invisible in attack for the first hour.
Perhaps then there was a resigned inevitability, particularly with Marine’s recovery from two-goals adrift on Tuesday still fresh in the hosts’ minds, about Danny Newton’s stoppage time winner.
The ball dropped kindly, via a Witton defender’s head, from Tom Weale’s long throw for Barwells’ midweek match-winner at Stafford to thunder in the game’s decisive shot.
It’s a narrative not known in this part of Northwich, for a while at least.
When Danny Andrews delivered the game’s greatest moment of quality shortly after the half hour, Albion had reason to be optimistic.
Drifting in from the right flank to pick up possession centrally 30 yards from goal, he scorched a rising shot into the top corner of Liam Castle’s goal before the Barwell net-minder could blink.
Witton had done enough, just, as an attacking force to merit an interval advantage.
They ought to have led when Nicky Platt failed to control his finish from close range after Kyle Wilson’s had cut back.
From their next foray forward, Andrews sent Wilson into space behind the visitors’ high defensive line, the forward winning a foot race with Castle to the ball.
His next touch was a shot only for Jamie Hood, quick as a flash, to block brilliantly.
Barwell’s glimpses of goal were seldom; Cooper was swift from his line to thwart Newton after the forward sneaked behind Witton’s backline, while Luke Barlone toe-poked wide from an angle.
When Hancock, in a near replica of his goal against Marine, robbed Weale and swept a shot from 20-yards narrowly wide it was Albion who finished the half on a high point.
Newton blazed wildly over when well-placed after half time, but it proved not a catalyst for pressure from the visitors.
Instead they got lucky through Blakely, then pinched the points while Witton wilted.
Witton Star Man: Cliff Moyo. An encouraging debut by the former Barrow full back, even if on the opposite flank from which he is accustomed. Cool under pressure, and willing to join the attack when the chance arose.
Word should be saved too for midfield enforcer Oliver James, who has been Witton’s most consistent player in the season’s opening week. Resolute, and always driving his lesser-achieving teammates forward.
Witton (4-5-1) Cooper (GK), Gardner, Harrison, Joseph, Moyo, Andrews, James, Glover, Platt (Foster 61), Hancock, Wilson Subs not used Ashworth, Dawson, Purcell, Moseley Goal Andrews 33 Booked Foster (foul), James (dissent)
Barwell (4-4-2) Castle (GK), Blakely, Hadland, Hood, Gudger, Weale, Lavery, Bates (Brown-Hill 61), Earls (Brehon 64), Newton, Barlone Subs not used Brown, Gaunt, Albrighton Goals Blakely 70, Newton 90 (+2) Booked Newton (foul)
Referee Paul Hodskinson (Preston)