Title Race: In-form Luton Town strolled to their seventh straight home win in the Skrill Premier, with a dominant 4-2 victory over Gateshead, a result that moves them to within a point of league leaders Cambridge United.
Paul Benson, Alex Lawless and Andre Gray ensured the Hatters a comfortable three goal advantage inside half an hour, with the latter bagging his thirteenth goal of the season.
Lawless grabbed his second on the hour mark, and although John Oster and Liam Hatch bagged a pair of late consolations for the visitors, it made little difference.
Meanwhile, the U’s were shocked 1-0 at struggling Hereford United, with Michael Rankine scoring the only goal mid-way through the first-half. It was only the Bulls third win in their last ten games.
Although Richard Money’s side do still have a game in hand on their nearest challengers, they’ll be disappointed by their lack of cutting edge at Edgar Street. They had chances to level, with Josh Gillies curling wide and Adam Cunnington firing into the side netting, but they were unable to find an equaliser.
It’s becoming something of a sticky patch for the long time league leaders, who have now dropped points in three of their last six matches, having only failed to win on four occasions in their previous 16 outings.
Grimsby Town moved up to third place as they defeated Kidderminster Harriers 3-1, a result that leaves last year’s runners-up outside of the playoff places.
Despite taking the lead early on through Michael Gash, Steve Burr’s side fell to a third successive league defeat courtesy of a goal by Craig Disley and a brace from Scott Neilson. The Mariners are now unbeaten in six games, winning five.
Another of the teams that have come out on top against Kidderminster in recent weeks, Alfreton Town moved up into fourth place – level on points with Paul Hurst’s side – with a 2-1 victory over free-falling Dartford. The Reds 3-1 victory over the Harries came after back-to-back defeats against Nuneaton and Luton, and they have now built on that momentum to climb back into the promotion mix.
At this stage, the playoff places are completed by Barnet – who head a trio of teams on 39 points thanks to their superior goal difference. Defeats for both Kidderminster and Nuneaton on the final weekend before Christmas enabled the Bees to leapfrog the duo into fifth place with a 1-0 win at bottom of the table Hyde.
In contrast to their excellent FA Cup run, Kidderminster Harriers are enduring a miserable sequence of results in the league: losing all three of their December fixtures at the hands of Woking, Alfreton and Grimsby, a series of results that has seen them drop from third to sixth.
Meanwhile, Nuneaton Town also fell out of the playoff places as they lost 2-0 at home to Woking, their first defeat in five matches. The Borough, who have only lost six games all season, have now been beaten home and away against the Cards – who are becoming something of a bogey team for Kevin Wilkin’s side.
Halifax Town are, like Kidderminster and Nuneaton, within a win of the top five. They recently recovered from three consecutive defeats against Braintree, Hereford and Woking, with back-to-back successes against Dartford and, most recently, Forest Green Rovers.
Braintree Town, Gateshead, Salisbury City and Welling United will complete the top half on Christmas Day.
Game of the Week
The return of the ‘game of the week’ feature brings with it a storming fixture at the wrong end of the table, where Connor Robinson’s stoppage time leveller earned Lincoln City a 3-3 draw away at 10-man Chester.
The home side were 2-0 up inside 10 minutes when Jamie Menagh, the former Blackpool trainee making his debut for the Blues, netted twice from distance.
Bohan Dixon’s header pulled a goal back for the visitors before the hosts Gareth Seddon saw red for a foul on Tom Miller. Alan Power then levelled from the spot, only for John Rooney to find the net in the same fashion and restore Chester’s lead.
The struggling hosts looked set to claim their first win since the 9th November, only for Robinson to strike and help the Imps avoid defeat for just the third time since early October.
After the match, a positive City manager Gary Simpson told BBC Radio Lancashire: “One or two of them haven't been at their best today but they stuck at it and kept going.
“We were against the wind, it was raining and in those conditions it's probably easier for ten men to get about and make it difficult for us, but we created opportunities again and I think it would have been a travesty if we hadn't got something out of the game.
“There were one or two controversial decisions, certainly the penalties, and with the conditions it made it difficult to get the ball down and pass it and it became a bit of a lottery.
“But I'm pleased that from two goals behind, we've got three goals away from home and are taking something back with us.”
At the risk of sounding like a broken record: it was yet more misery for Hyde, as they slipped to their nineteenth league defeat, and their twenty-second match without a win, an all be it narrow 1-0 defeat at the hands of Barnet.
Their plight was summed up by a message from their official twitter account ahead of the match which read: “We're all praying for a Christmas miracle today. Twenty-second time lucky. Hyde v Barnet, the carnage starts at 3pm.”
Fifteen points better off but still the victim of a nine match losing streak is Dartford, who are now four points adrift of safety.
They took the lead in their latest encounter, the previously mentioned 2-1 defeat at Alfreton. But Lee Noble’s straight red card for a foul on Connor Franklin was always going to make the visitor’s task difficult and, inevitably, Paul Clayton’s second-half brace cancelled out Elliot Bradbrook’s opener.
After the match, under-fire Darts manager Tony Burman had this to say: “That game started ok and we felt we could get something from the game. With ten men the guys worked hard, we conceded two goals from a free-kick of ours and a corner of ours on the break.
“We had ten men for the majority of the game, and if you've got chances you've got to put them in. There's no luck coming our way, there's none. It's a bitter pill to swallow.”
Tamworth and Chester complete the bottom four, with the duo two points behind 20th place Southport. The Lambs recently replaced Aldershot Town in the relegation zone, following the Shots 6-0 thrashing of Dale Belford’s side at the Recreation Ground. Brett Williams scored twice for the home side to take his tally for the season to 14, making him the league’s joint top scorer alongside Macclesfield’s Connor Jennings.
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