PADIHAM went four points clear at the top of the NWC Premier Division after digging deep to beat Staffordshire-based opponents Norton United.
Steve Wilkes’s side made the most of Maine Road’s defeat away to Bacup Borough but things could’ve been even better had Kevin Townson not scored a 90th minute winner for Bootle against AFC Blackpool.
The Storks struggled to get to grips with an awkward playing surface in the first half coupled with the home side’s direct approach play.
As a result the visitors fell a goal behind in the 18th minute when Mark McDonald took advantage of a bad bounce inside the penalty area to slot the loose ball past goalkeeper Sean Davis to gift the hosts a 1-0 lead.
That remained the scoreline until the interval but the second half promised further goals with a frantic start to proceedings.
Norton’s Jonathan Beaumont fired straight at Davis while at the other end Kenny Taylor broke away only to see his shot saved by Richard Brandon.
Then, after Davis saved from Daniel Brown in the 55th minute, the Storks levelled.
A corner from the right initially saw an Elliot Dunn header blocked and then a Kieran Fletcher shot handled on the line by Sam Bradbury; the match official instantly awarding a penalty and sending off United’s full-back.
Ben Allen made no mistake from the spot to make it 1-1.
Allen very nearly gave the Storks the lead in their next surge forward but a top class save from Brandon prevented the Storks leading marksman from adding to his goal tally.
Mark Sharples headed a Sam Morris cross straight at Brandon in the 65th minute and then substitute Marly Gough went close for the away side with a shot that flashed past the upright.
Dunn and Joe Garvin both had efforts from the edge of the box saved before Padiham hit their late match winner.
An excellent move saw Garvin find Allen who in turn threaded a neat pass in to Kieran Pickup and the young forward fired past Brandon to prompt the Storks’ celebrations.
That winner sparked objection from the hosts who had four players booked, Delroy Fox sent off and their manager Scott Dundas removed from the dug out in a heated end to the game.
Padiham are in action again tomorrow when they travel to Silsden, kick-off 7-45 p.m.
Meanwhile, the club’s hopes of securing a league and cup double this term have been dashed after the Storks were booted out of the North West Counties Challenge Cup competition.
The Storks were found guilty of playing an ineligible player in their third round tie with AFC Blackpool.
Padiham had included the striker, signed from Ramsbottom United, in their line-up for the cup clash oblivious to the fact that he had already played in a first round tie for Nelson against Rochdale Town in October.
Despite initially appealing the decision, the club reluctantly had to accept their fate.
This means that Saturday’s quarter-final tie against Maine Road will not now take place.
Instead the Storks will face the same opponents in a top of the league clash at the Arbories, kick-off 3 p.m.
Elsewhere, Padiham Reserves returned to the top of the NWC Reserve Division table with a 3-1 win over Ashton Town.
Andrew Tinker gave the Storks the lead four minutes from half-time as a result of a smartly taken free-kick before the same player doubled the advantage in the 68th minute with a long range drive.
Tinker then completed his hat-trick five minutes later from the penalty spot.
Connah Kilgannon pulled one back for the visitors.
However, Padiham Ladies exited the North West Womens’ Regional League Cup as they were defeated 2-1 away at Chester City.
Trailing 1-0 at half-time and then 2-0 early in the second half, Padiham pulled one back through Justine Wallace but failed to craft an equaliser.