Three goals in five minutes just before half time kept Swinton Athletic’s title hopes alive and gave Stocksbridge Park Steels Reserves their first defeat of 2016.
Swinton took a 4-1 win in the County Senior Premier Division to move clear of their visitors in third place, and to within 14 points of the league leaders, with three games in hand.
Swinton almost took the lead in the ninth minute through Enzo Guarini, as he latched onto a beautiful through ball before rounding the goalkeeper, but from a tight angle the off-balance attacker could only find the side netting.
The hosts did take the lead in the 26th minute in somewhat fortuitous circumstances.
Guarini’s short ball to Ash Linacre wide on the right was followed by a cross into the box which alluded all targets inside the area, before striking the far post and bouncing in, thanks largely to the wind.
Stocksbridge were stunned and Swinton soon doubled their lead.
A quick break from Justin Greenwood soon had Athletic in a three on two attack before the ball was pulled back to Ryan Doxey who slotted in from close range.
By the half hour mark the game was all but over as Linacre’s corner from the right was met by the head of Doxey who scored his second, and Swinton’s third.
Both keepers made excellent saves during the first half.
Guarini was played through one-on-one but Stocksbridge’s Liam Grayson was able to parry behind for the corner.
At the other end Ryan MacDonald blasted a powerful effort from the right of the box that was blocked by Swinton’s Dan Morton.
Stocksbridge offered a glimmer of hope, pulling a goal back early in the second half.
Scott Whittington hit a powerful half-volley into the top corner following Ryan MacDonald’s pass.
However, Swinton were unstirred, and two minutes later Guarini’s cross was met by the head of Doxey, but was tipped away by the goalkeeper.
On 60 minutes they were inches away from a fourth goal. Shawn Mitchell’s header down was caught on the volley by Drew Scandon before being spectacularly tipped over by Grayson.
The game was soon put beyond all doubt, as with little more than 20 minutes left Alex Wilkinson’s corner was nodded home by Jon Billups to make it 4-1.
In the 89th minute Stocksbridge mustered a final chance when Charlie Stewart was on the end of Whittington’s low cross, however Morton showed excellent reflexes to deny the close range effort.
Stocksbridge drop to fourth with their first league defeat since November 21.