ONE look at the 5-1 home defeat by Whitchurch Alport and the casual onlooker might think St Helens Town took a good hiding at the hands of second-placed Whitchurch.

But, as anyone present at the game in front of a record crowd at Ruskin Sports Village would readily testify, Town were in with a shout of the spoils for much of this game.

Just as in the reverse fixture on 30 December, when the score was exactly the same, St. Helens had a number of good opportunities but failed to take them, whereas Alport are expert finishers and rarely miss.

The fact that the visitors scored in the final minute of each half rubbed further salt into Town’s wounds.

In captain and striker, Simon Everall, they had the one player of true class on the pitch and Town’s defence had no answer to his leadership, promptings, expert runs and assists.

His goal in the final minute of the game was exquisite.

On a very wet day, which saw every Hallmark Security NW Counties game postponed other than those at St. Helens and Widnes (both on plastic) and at First Division leaders Silsden, the well-supported Whitchurch club and a good number of neutrals swelled the crowd to a record 192.

After the opening exchanges, Ben Mills opened the scoring for the visitors in the twelfth minute following an error by ex-Burscough keeper Carl Williams in the Town goal.

Town had their chances and both Liam Diggle and Ben Bolton went close before Mills netted a second in the 38th minute and Hovik Nerseryan stretched the lead to 3-0 right on half-time, Williams having no chance with either goal.

Town made a real fight of it in the second half and Matty Smith pulled back the deficit to 1-3 with a well-taken goal three minutes after the re-start.

They continued to press and Danny Lomax, Diggle and Edwards all had opportunities before Edwards fired in a low ball along the goal-line to set up Smith, who only had to touch the ball home but, somehow, the ball flashed by as he adjusted his feet and the golden chance to make it 2-3 went begging. That would have been a measure of justice and – who knows – Town might have gone on from there, just as they did against Sandbach.

Within a few minutes, however, Mills slammed home Alport’s fourth to complete his hat-trick and right on the final whistle, a long ball skimmed just over Lomax’s head, right into the path of Everall who did the rest.

The three points were enough to send Whitchurch above Litherland into second place in the table and pull back two points on leaders Silsden, who were held 2-2 at home to Prestwich Heys.

Town remain in 20th position, with only Daisy Hill and Nelson below them. Both clubs now have games in hand and are within striking distance, provided they win them.

However, this Saturday, St Helens travel to Chadderton, who are one place above them, knowing that victory will enable them to exchange places with the Oldham-based club, whom they have already beaten 3-1 at Ruskin Drive.

Having had the last three away games postponed due to waterlogged pitches, manager Lee Jenkinson will be hoping for a dry week ahead of the game, as Chadderton have had problems with their pitch in the recent past and they had a delayed start to their home fixtures after it was re-seeded in the Summer.

In common with many clubs, they have had several games postponed recently, so they too will be keen to see a dry spell. Town have an open date on 24 February ahead of a trip to leaders Silsden on 3 March before a return home on 10 March against New Mills.