THERE was no dream ending to what has been a nightmare week for Northwich Victoria.
Frickley would have been the final place on a list of destinations they wanted to go, not least because no Vics team has won there for more than two decades.
A stalemate was probably predictable.
The visitors were better than Blues, showing little sign that a seismic week off the pitch had shaken a belief in their ability to win on the road.
All that was missing was a goal.
They could have scored several times over but fortune, an ingredient in short supply since last Saturday’s FA Trophy success against Staines, did not favour them.
There was regret too, for title rivals Chester lost at home.
Vics adapted better following the dismissal of Tom Field and Frickley’s Lincoln Adams after a scuffle sparked by Stuart Ludlam’s hefty – but fair – tackle on the former.
Nathan Woolfe’s drive flashed past a post, then Chris Budrys could not control his header after John Disney had crossed from the right.
Ryan Wade’s volley shaved the bar soon afterwards.
The former Skelmersdale man sent Wayne Riley into space six minutes before the break, his centre evading Budrys by inches.
Riley had the clearest sight of goal when he fired a loose ball towards goal following a corner, but Frickley goalkeeper Steve Dickinson saved smartly.
The pattern did not deviate after half time.
When Dickinson spilled Woolfe’s effort, again from outside the area, it felt like Frickley would concede eventually.
Wade’s curving centre then clipped the woodwork but still Vics, with senior player Steve Abbott watching from the sideline as caretaker manager, were kept out.
Their belief flickered after that, more than once taking an extra touch instead of shooting at goal.
No team has scored fewer goals in front of their own fans this term than Frickley though and, shorn of top scorer James Ashmore along with front pair Ollie Ryan and Danny South, they were shorter still on firepower.
Their guests grabbed the initiative again in the closing stages, Riley sending a free kick too close to Dickinson with time running out.
Substitute Michael Clarke appeared certain to score when he met Wade’s deep cross, but his header lacked direction.
Skipper Ian Kearney came close to copying his trick from seven days ago, his shot smuggled off the line by a defender in stoppage time after he was first to reach Riley’s assist.
Vics’ Star Man Wayne Riley. Dropped back into midfield after Tom Field’s dismissal and became the heartbeat of Vics’ attacking play.
Continued to drive the team forward even when minds and legs grew tired.
Word too for Michael Roddy, whose appetite inspired others around him.
Frickley (4-4-2) Dickinson (GK), Ludlam, Adams, Gray, Turner, Bleau, Walsh, Darley, Mallon (Semley 72), Knox (Whittington 67), Grayson (Cyrus 85)
Sub not used Hood (GK)
Booked Darley, Knox (both fouls)
Sent off Adams (violent conduct)
Vics (4-2-3-1) Hinchliffe (GK), Disney, Kearney, Collins, Short, Field, Roddy, Wade, Riley, Woolfe (Johnson 68), Budrys (Clarke 76)
Subs not used Smyth, Armstrong, Fitzpatrick
Booked Disney (foul)
Sent off Field (violent conduct)
Referee Alan Clayton (Hyde)