Lostock Gralam 2-1 Middlewich Town

AS quick as a flash, it was all but over.

More specifically, two swishes of Robbie Hatton’s right boot - the second only moments after the first - tightened Lostock Gralam’s grip on a Mid-Cheshire District FA Saturday Challenge Cup title they simply did not want to let go of.

A 2-0 lead inside six minutes, and on the pitch of higher-ranked hosts, was greeted with understandable glee.

Perversely, Hatton fluffed an easier chance – which if converted would have completed a personal treble and with it made Middlewich wilt further – shortly afterwards.

It was a pivotal five minutes.

Referee Ray Duncalf interrupted the game, and the Grey Lambs’ forward momentum, for an unscheduled water break.

“I need a drink so we’re stopping,” he told bewildered players.

The Witches resumed refreshed, and halved their arrears when Jack Weedall pinched possession from Carl Harvey before inviting skipper Jamie Petrie to run clear.

He slipped the ball past goalkeeper Dane Rigby, and suddenly there was a contest.

It unsettled Lostock, who became even more frantic than previously.

A blur of blue shirts still swarmed towards every red-shirted foe when he had the ball at his feet, only less precisely.

Harry Short bustled Petrie out of the way to go one-on-one with Rigby, but the custodian smothered his shot.

Harry Ashworth then ought to have done much better than kick fresh air when he had a sight of goal too.

The second-half was less fragmented, although cautions within minutes for Short and Connor Hooks indicated it would be equally competitive.

Town were more assured, and Callum Priestley skidded a header inches past an upright from a corner.

At the other end, Harvey’s flag-kick was forced goalwards by Alex Wilson and Middlewich number one Charles Masters blocked with a boot.

Priestley’s cross clipped the crossbar before substitute Michael Evans’ fierce volley flashed wide after he connected with Louis Johnson’s clearing header.

While having to defend, there wasn’t ever a sense Lostock were hanging on.

They served a reminder of their attacking threat too when Hatton’s free-kick was diverted from danger by Masters with a strong palm.

Middlewich made only progressive changes, introducing Dan Lomas, James Smith and Marcin Manko, but the Grey Lambs resisted admirably.

They almost nicked another when Harvey’s angled attempt crept wide.

In the end they did not need another goal, and it would have been harsh on Hatton had he been left to rue an opportunity he didn’t take.

He had been alert to reach Rigby’s long punt forward in the fourth minute, directing the ball where Middlewich’s goalkeeper couldn’t quite reach it.

If that was finesse, then he favoured force moments later when sweeping an unstoppable shot into the net after Harvey teed him up at a corner.

It was a rehearsed routine, and performed perfectly.

Middlewich responded, but didn’t recover.

Lostock | 4-4-2 | Rigby (GK), Ward (Adjekum 83), Johnson, Wilson, Hooks, Wady (Taylor 62), Harvey, Herd (Dean 75), Woolley (Collins 72), Charlie Hatton, Robbie Hatton Sub not used Baker Goals Hatton 4, 6 Booked Harvey, Ward, Robbie Hatton, Hooks

Middlewich | 4-2-3-1 | Masters (GK), Parkinson, Whitehead, Burgess (Manko 80), Barnett, Weedall, Burns (Evans 64), Petrie, Ashworth (Lomas 46), Short, Priestley (Smith 77) Sub not used Griffin Goal Petrie 29 Booked Burns, Burgess, Short

Referee Ray Duncalf