Padiham got off to a poor start in a week that will see them play four matches, going down 2-0 at high-flying Runcorn Town.
The first half was an entertaining affair with Padiham creating the better chances, but failing to find the net.
As early as the third minute Alex Murphy, returning to left-back for the Storks, sent a looping ball into the box which saw James Dean race past a static Jack Pickering to chip the keeper.
However, his lovely weighted volley bounced just millimeters outside the near upright.
It was Padiham again who created an excellent chance as Dean controlled an Ash Brierley long throw before feeding man of the match Paddy O’Brien who shot from a very tight angle just past the diving keeper, the ball again skidding just the wrong side of the post.
Runcorn Town’s opening goal was a training ground gem, as Keiran Evans banged a long and very deep ball across the crowded penalty area to centre-half Carl Rodgers, lurking 15 yards shy of the penalty area.
Completely unmarked Rogers hit a sweet volley low through the crowd and inside the right post.
Padiham replied with an optimistic shot from Brierley which bounced off the top of the crossbar, before excellent work by Pickup and O’Brien found Dean springing the offside trap only to fire straight at keeper Simon Thelwell.
An omen of things to come on 35 minutes saw Runcorn’s top scorer Craig Cairns outpace Marc Young in the Storks defence, with Brandon Barski tracking across only to clear weakly as far as striker Mark Reed.
His shot rattled against the woodwork, the rebound shot being blocked by Young.
A brave double save by Storks keeper Mike Donlon denied Cairns just before the break after a huge clearance by the Runcorn keeper had somehow found its way through.
Another lack of concentration by the ordinarily outstanding Barski early in the second half saw him play a hopelessly weak backpass to Donlon.
Cairns latched onto the ball and one-on-one with the keeper looked to have nudged the ball too wide.
Donlon dived to his right, attempting to palm away, but brought down the striker who sent him the wrong way to score the resultant penalty.
Barski went close at the other end, and with 15 minutes left substitute Jake Townsend tracked back to cleverly dispossess the defender, flicking right to Keiron Pickup whose cross to the far post narrowly evaded the outstretched boot of Dean.
An awful ball inside by Murphy was latched onto by Joseph Holt for Runcorn, who broke down the right on 70 minutes, threading a precision ball through the channel to Kevin Exell.
His cross to the far post found sub Joseph Kearns whose shot was well saved by Donlon.
Kearns looked like he’d scored late on as he side-footed a Paul McManus ball through the left channel past the stranded Donlon only to see Murphy atone for his earlier mistake by clearing off the line.
The game finished a disappointing 2-0 to Runcorn, and yet again underlined the fact that the Hallmark Security League comprises five top-qualityteams followed by ‘The Rest’.
Right now Padiham are proving to be the best of ‘The Rest’, but will need to really up their game to challenge for those top spots next season.
The Storks, who were due to play AFC Liverpool at the Arbories on Monday evening, travel to New Mills on Wednesday before hosting Barnton in the final game of the campaign on Saturday, with kick off at 3 p.m.