AFTER the previous meeting between these teams last Christmas, Northwich Victoria started a New Year at the top of the table.
Their aim now is survival, not to be promoted, but there should still be satisfaction they claimed a deserved draw to thwart their landlords.
Brad Bauress scored in stoppage time for Witton Albion to spare his side’s blushes, preserving with it an unbeaten home record.
The irony of losing in front of their own supporters for the first time this season against opponents chairman Mark Harris announced beforehand will be leaving in April would have been a painful one.
It was a low-quality contest, interrupted sporadically by Vics’ goalkeeper Dylan Forth making saves, in which Northwich – including three debutants for Paul Moore’s first game as manager – provided spirited resistance.
Witton, missing the forward thrust of suspended full-back Matty Devine, rarely put them under pressure.
After a subdued start, Albion still created the first opening.
However Karl Noon, after Tom Owens had flicked the ball into his path, blasted straight at Forth.
Vics’ custodian then denied Rob Hopley after he helped on captain Anthony Gardner’s long throw before arching his back to tip over Scott Lycett’s header – deflected by Yaw Gyimah – from the resulting corner.
Albion survived a scare when Alex Johnson nudged John Pritchard’s driven cross into the net from close range, only to be flagged offside.
Noon’s attempt from distance dipped too late, while Owens could not control a header after ghosting on to Lycett’s lofted free kick.
Moore had asked for effort from his players, and got it in abundance.
Matthew Clarke, alongside new recruit Jake Doran in midfield, was prominent – more so than opposite number Prince Haywood.
Stuart McDonald, another appearing in green and white for the first time, bridged a gap to front man Alex Johnson with his tireless running.
In contrast, Carl Macauley’s men never built up a head of steam.
They still had enough quality to craft an opening though, and Hopley’s skidding effort found Forth scrambling low to his left to save.
The net-minder’s next intervention was his best, reacting smartly to shovel Prince Haywood’s volley out of the bottom corner after Hopley nodded into his path.
Northwich took the lead from their best move of the match, started by Lanre Olopade’s burst down the right.
McDonald then took over, and his cross to the back post was met by Gyimah with a perfect contact on the volley, steering the ball into the corner of the net.
Albion sent on Ryan Hickman and Jamie Davis, promoted from their youth team, but a response was not initially forthcoming.
That is until Bauress forced a loose ball over the line with time running out, much to the relief of the hosts’ supporters.
He has scored now in every Witton game during December.
Meanwhile Hopley was sent off by referee Dean Watson in the aftermath as a punishment for grabbing a Vics player by the throat while attempting to retrieve the ball from the net.
Witton | 4-4-2 | Roberts (GK), Gardner, Brown, Lycett, Wilson, Owens, Haywood (Davis 86), Noon (Hickman 79), Bauress, Hopley, Hinchliffe (Williams 62) Subs not used Adigun, Garner (GK) Goal Bauress 90 (+1) Booked Bauress (dissent) Sent off Hopley (violent conduct)
Vics | 4-4-2 | Forth (GK), Olopade, Fitzgerald, Nolan, Pritchard, Gyimah, Doran, Clarke, Burey, McDonald, Johnson Subs not used McCoy (GK), Coffey, Moore Goal Gyimah 73
Referee Dean Watson