IN a season where 1874 Northwich risked taking a backward step, they performed an about turn in the nick of time.

That is true both figuratively, for this was the last game of the season, and also literally given that Aaron Smith prodded the ball into City of Liverpool’s goal with just two minutes left.

The victors may have taken the long way around, but they got to their destination.

And that's what matters.

There can be no debate that they deserved to win the North West Counties League’s Challenge Cup for the first time.

A late penalty by Matthew Woolley, their captain who lifted the enormous trophy skywards on Saturday, had seen them stumble past lower-ranked Chadderton in a first-round tie back in October.

That feels a long time ago now.

1874 have scored 20 goals in this competition since, more than any rival, and on every measure were better than the newly-crowned Premier Division champions in the final.

The Purps, perhaps unsurprisingly given the emotional drain of snatching back a title seven days earlier they thought had been taken from them, were subdued.

Mentally tired, the last thing they needed was to spend long spells without possession while running hard to win it back.

That said, they responded with frenzy to falling behind.

Paul Williams' towering header, after meeting Francis Foy’s corner, clattered an upright in added time.

Tony Aghayere, 1874’s goalkeeper, might have been counted among the 1,000-plus spectators before reacting brilliantly to keep out substitute Danny Dalton’s low drive moments later.

They did not deserve an equaliser on the balance of play, but that pride-fuelled finish by the Purps was striking.

However this was 1874’s day.

It was Smith’s afternoon, and it was fitting that one of his touches was decisive.

Like the team he has been part of since the end of February, his campaign needed a change of direction after a stay with Scottish Premiership side Hamilton Academical was cut short.

If his desire was to love football, or even like it, again then a dash towards delirious fans in green after scoring suggests the 21-year-old has his wish.

He probably won’t play for Northwich next season, which makes that moment more pointed.

In truth Liverpool never got to grips with him.

His sheer presence gave 1874 a numerical advantage in midfield while his intelligence with the ball at his feet – and bursts of acceleration to glide away from the nearest purple shirt – set him apart.

A drive from distance inside five minutes served as a warning to goalkeeper Ben Ascroft, who appeared rattled after the ball bounced off him and back into play, of what was to follow.

Their personal duel was an unfolding narrative in the second-half.

Ascroft awkwardly shovelled one shot onto an upright, but was more convincing when he diverted a free-kick to safety later.

He was unlucky when 1874 broke through.

Taylor Kennerley’s cross whizzed to the back post, where substitute Callum Gardner was waiting.

He returned it back from where it had come and the Purps’ custodian blocked it, but Smith was alert to nudge over the line.

In a flash, interpretations change.

Is this campaign now a better one than last given Northwich have silverware to show for their efforts? Maybe.

The value of beating the league’s best team, even a version diminished by previous exertion, in the way they did may not be known until later.

For now, 1874 are going in the right direction again.