Ben Allen hit a hat-trick in Padiham’s 3-0 win at Ashton Town on Saturday, as the Storks opened up what could be a crucial six-point gap at the top of the North West Counties Premier Division table.
As Bootle were losing 6-3 at home to Barnoldswick Town - joint-managed by former Padiham striker Paul Fildes - the Storks gained a vital away win to stretch their advantage at the top to six points.
Bootle have two games left to Padiham’s one, but Steve Wilkes’ men have a goal difference 14 better than their rivals.
Bootle host Winsford Town tomorrow night, and anything less than a win would confirm Padiham as champions, earning promotion to the Evo-Stik First Division North - level eight on the pyramid - for the first time in the club’s history.
The Storks extended their incredible unbeaten away record in the league at Ashton, where a strong wind and dried-out surface made it difficult for both sides.
The early exchanges saw Jack Overson shoot across the face of goal, and Gareth Grant fired into the arms of Padiham keeper Sean Davis.
Allen then dragged a shot wide, while at the other end, an angled shot tested Davis to the full.
Eventually Padiham began to dominate, and an Elliot Dunn cross required a good headed clearance from James Waldron to stop Nathan Bond having a free header.
A minute later, a one-handed save from Dave Moran foiled Allen, and Moran again kept out the league’s top-scorer as he turned a shot around the post.
From Joe Garvin’s corner, Moran was called on again to save from Bond.
Allen then headed wide from a Garvin free kick, and Overson fired over, before Bond charged down a clearance from Moran and Allen side-footed home.
Padiham doubled their advantage just after the hour when Allen headed in a Mark Sharples cross at the far post, and with 10 minutes remaining, Allen rounded off his hat-trick from the penalty spot after a handball.
The Storks are at Runcorn Town in their final game on Saturday, while Bootle are at St Helens Town - but Padiham could have rubber-stamped their title success before it comes to the last day.