Padiham increase lead at the top

ASSIST: Joe Garvin
ASSIST: Joe Garvin

PADIHAM increased their lead at the top of the North West Counties Premier Division table following a draw at Congleton Town on Saturday.

The fixture, played in freezing conditions, was the only game in the top tier to survive the weather.

Ben Allen keeps the ball under control.

Ben Allen keeps the ball under control.

But with a strong wind present and the pitch at Ivy Gardens cutting up within minutes of kick-off, it proved a tough afternoon for the Storks.

In fact the home side had the better of the opening half hour with the wind behind them, and Richard Bailey forced Sean Davis into three excellent, if not unorthodox, saves to prevent Town from taking the lead.

Padiham’s main outlet in alleviating some of the pressure came from Kenny Taylor, who stormed down the right on a number of occasions, but it was the hosts who continued to pose a threat in front of goal.

Aaron Best provided the Storks with a scare when his fiercely-driven cross from the left flashed across the face of goal before being cleared to safety.

But, despite the pattern of play, it was Steve Wilkes’ side who took the lead in the 40th minute when Joe Garvin’s penetrative pass released Ben Allen, who scored at the third attempt once Martin Pearson saved his initial attempt, and the crossbar thwarted his rebound.

Unfortunately the visitors couldn’t take the lead into the break as, in the closing stages of the half, referee John Dowd made a decision that could seriously affect Padiham’s promotion hopes.

Bailey blasted the ball at Owen Deakin Pickard from less than a yard away, which struck the defender’s arm, and in a flash the match official awarded a penalty.

Chris Smith stepped up to make the most of the harsh decision by converting the spot kick to make it 1-1.

Padiham started the second half well, pressing in hope of regaining the initiative, but in the 52nd minute it was Congleton who almost scored when a corner somehow found its way to Michael Koral, whose shot clipped the back of a Padiham defender and looped over the bar.

At the other end a desperate scramble in Town’s goalmouth saw Kieran Pickup and Mark Sharples denied by last-ditch blocks before Garvin drilled wide of the post from the edge of the box.

The Storks did have the ball in the net in the 68th minute, but the linesman raised his flag for off-side after Allen had turned Garvin’s strike into the back of the net.

The hosts had a chance to steal all three points with eight minutes remaining when Pickard conceded possession and Chris Smith’s header whistled wide of the post from a cross from the left.

Jack Graham then threatened with a free-kick from the edge of the box but Davis gratefully clasped the attempt in the 85th minute.

And as play swung again new signing and late substitute Nathan Bond wasted a great opportunity to become an instant hero when he shot tamely wide from Garvin’s centre, and then, in time added on, Garvin once again provided the pass that sent Allen clear, but the league’s leading scorer rolled his shot just wide of the post in the last action of the game.

Padiham are in action again tomorrow night, weather permitting, when they entertain AFC Liverpool at the Arbories with kick-off 7-45 p.m.