AFC Rushden & Diamonds were condemned to a third defeat in a row as Witton Albion showed just why they are right in the hunt for the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One South title.
This won’t be the game that defines Diamonds’ season, there will be bigger ones to be won if they are to go on and claim a play-off place.
But they were given a stern lesson at the Dog & Duck as a well-drilled, big, strong and ruthless Witton side wrapped up a 2-0 victory to maintain their chase of leaders Shaw Lane.
From the off, the visitors just seemed to have that extra edge about them.
They were powerful in their defending, quick on the counter-attack and played their football at the top end of the pitch.
Diamonds, on the whole, didn’t play that badly. On this night they were simply beaten by a better team.
They weren’t helped by the withdrawal of defender Jamie Tank ahead of the game due to personal reasons, which meant Dan Quigley had to fill in at centre-half on his return to the club.
And when Richard Bunting pulled his calf in the warm-up, Andy Peaks could have been forgiven for thinking that it wasn’t going to be their night.
There was no shortage of effort and they gave it a good go early in the second half.
But once Witton had grabbed their second goal the writing was on the wall.
The visitors looked sharp early on but the returning Jack Bowen gave them an early scare as his blistering pace took him clear of the defence but Calvin Hare was equal to his final effort.
At the other end, Ben Heath, given the nod in goal, blocked Steven Tames’ cross after he had skinned Sam Brown on the right side of the area.
But it was Tames who opened the scoring on 17 minutes when Heath’s save from a Thomas Owens shot sent the ball into the air and the right winger was there to volley home from close-range.
Witton dominated the remainder of the half and, after William Jones had shot over and Bradley Bauress had sent a free-kick just wide, they went so close to a second when Bauress was played in by Jones but saw his effort come back off the inside of the post.
Diamonds came out with renewed vigour after the break and Hare produced a fine save to tip Liam Dolman’s header over the bar.
Then it was the home side’s turn to hit the woodwork. Taylor Orosz had just one thing on his mind as the ball sat up nicely for him and his rasping effort swerved away from Hare but smacked off the inside of the post before Witton cleared their lines.
It proved to be a turning point and the visitors took full advantage as they grabbed the crucial second goal on 67 minutes.
Anthony Gardner created it with a driving run and cross from the right. The ball found Robert Hopley all alone and he duly hammered home to all-but end the contest.
Diamonds had a big shout for a clear handball from a corner waved away while Hare made an excellent save at the death to claw the ball back from under the crossbar.
But Witton, who were well worth their win, could so easily have had a third with Jones shooting wide while Heath made a decent stop from Paul Williams.
While there is no sign of a full-blown crisis for Diamonds, this was a third league loss on the spin and it’s a run of form that must be halted when they go to rock-bottom Northwich Victoria on Saturday.
The race for the play-offs now looks like being an extremely close one and Peaks must ensure his players are ready for the big battle that lies ahead...
Diamonds: Heath; Harris, Quigley, Dolman, Brown; Orosz, Farrell, Curtis (sub Brown-Hill, 74 mins), Ford; Lorraine (sub Shariff, 74 mins), Bowen. Subs not used: Finlay, Westwood.
Witton: Hare; Gardner, Lycett, Wilson, Devine (sub Brown, 65 mins); Tames, Williams, Owens, Bauress; Hopley, Jones. Subs not used: Moore, Omotola.
Referee: Matthew Law.
Goals: Tames (17 mins, 0-1), Hopley (67 mins, 0-2).
Bookings: Bauress, Quigley (both dissent), Tames, Gardner (both fouls).