Scarborough Athletic were forced to grind out a nervy 1-0 win against Atherton Collieries as the visitors pushed right to the final whistle in search of an equaliser.
It wasn’t pretty at times from Steve Kittrick’s side, but the Boro defence withstood a barrage of late pressure from Atherton to emerge with a morale boosting three points.
With a busy schedule coming up over the festive period, striker James Walshaw was rested as a precaution after bruising his ribs in midweek, giving Nathan Curtis a chance to stake his claim as he returned to the starting XI.
Curtis’ eyes must have lit up in just the second minute when Michael Coulson’s low ball across was deflected into the path of the forward, but he could only steer wide of the target from 15 yards.
Atherton soon found their feet though, with Jordan Cover wriggling free down the right and forcing a superb diving save from Tommy Taylor in the Boro goal as he tried to curl it round the home keeper.
Michael Coulson should have done better with a back-post header from a floated Max Wright cross, but in the end it was merely a warm up for the opening goal.
Again Wright was the provider, swinging a ball over to the far side for Coulson to loop a header over Colls keeper Adam Reid and find the back of the net, despite the best efforts of a defender on the line.
Sensing they had the visitors rocking, Boro pushed for a second and came agonisingly close when James Knowles deftly touched on a header to force a scrambling low save from the busy Reid.
From a Coulson corner Sam Hewitt jumped highest to plant a firm header onto the crossbar as the Atherton defence creaked under heavy pressure from the hosts.
Boro looked to be going through the gears as the next opportunity saw Max Wright go on a driving run in from the flank, to hit a skidding drive with his left foot that was well held by Reid.
With half-time approaching, a youthful Colls side were sucked in as tensions threatened to boil over.
Atherton defender Daniel Lambert and Jamie Price got into a spat, with the Boro midfielder becoming the target for a number of overzealous tackles from the visitors for his playful antics. As Price pulled the strings, Sam Hewitt was booked for taking out former Seadog Glenn Matthews.
The half-time whistle probably came at a good time for the Colls, allowing Atherton to get some advice from manager Michael Clegg and regroup in a game they were certainly not out of.
Boro should have been further ahead and needed a second goal to get some breathing space. It nearly arrived shortly after the break as efforts from Knowles and Dean were heroically blocked by a dogged defence as the ball pinged around the box.
Atherton were not content to go down with a whimper though and signs of a revival were visible when Ben Hardcastle crafted out a yard of space to curve an effort narrowly wide of goal.
Backed by a vocal following of travelling fans, Gareth Peet gave Boro a fright by smacking the crossbar with a drive from 20 yards. The introduction of Bradley Cooke helped drive the visitors on and the substitute should have done better with a header at the near post that flashed wide.
Atherton really cranked up the pressure as Boro dropped deeper, laying siege on the home goal in search of an equaliser. Cooke forced Taylor to tip over his crossbar with a looping header and the Boro keeper was there again to deny Hardcastle with a drilled shot to preserve the clean sheet as the game ticked into five minutes added time.
Athletic found themselves pegged in and the defence working overtime, with Sam Hewitt capping a fine display at the back by clearing wave after wave of Atherton balls into an increasingly crowded penalty area.
Even Colls keeper Reid was sent up as Clegg’s side threw everything at the hosts, but lacked the finishing touch to make all their pressure count. There was still time late on for Dan Stimpson to be in the right place to produce a goal line clearance and deny the visitors once again in a dramatic finale.
The sound of the final whistle was greeted with a huge sigh of relief by the home supporters as Boro secured a valuable three points to keep up the pace with the teams above them, as Atherton were left to reflect on a game in which they did everything but score.