THERE are times in football where you have to hold your hands up and admit you stole it. Saturday’s win over Curzon Ashton was one of those times. On their two previous trips to face us on our home turf they have humiliated us. On both occasions they gave us a lesson on how to play and so regardless of how the victory came, we owed them one.

For the majority of the game, it felt like the weather was dictating our performance. The day was a damp squib and our performance likewise. The first half was about as non-descript as it could be. Our guys just didn’t start playing. Time and time again, Curzon were dictating the tempo and dominating the centre of the park. They broke with pace and purpose. It was almost like their previous visit to Blackwell Meadows had continued. Like last season’s game with them, Curzon belittled their lowly position to look a much more fluid and formulated outfit than us.

At half time, the hope was that it was just a blip and that the break would give us a chance to regroup and kick-start the game. Well, that was the hope. With the second half looking suspiciously similar to the first, any pre-match thoughts of winning switched to contemplating how good a point would be given the poor performance. And then, out of nowhere, we had a penalty. We couldn’t believe our luck. With us carrying little threat, we had been handed a golden chance to steal a lead. Stephen Thompson has shown himself to be a decisive and clinical penalty taker in recent months following Panenka-gate, but his effort was as ineffective as the team’s performance.

If we’d thought the penalty miss was an omen that the game wasn’t meant to be won, the sitter jaw-droppingly missed by Josh Gillies pretty much affirmed it. With that miss, I thought the penny had dropped with Curzon as they seemed to pick up their game sensing we were there for the taking. During the second half, the pitch was starting to resemble a pudding and yet to their credit, Curzon didn’t seem to let it affect them. They kept us honest at the back. I was particularly impressed with right winger, Ben McKenna, picked up following his release from Stockport. He gave left back Ben O’Hanlon a torrid time. Perhaps if they had carried more of a threat up front, the result might have been a different story.

Late winners have become a bit of a recurring theme in recent times, and Dave Syers’ typically timed header was met with the sort of rambunctious celebration born from sheer relief with a soupcon of surprise. Out of nowhere, we had an unexpected additional two points towards our battle against relegation, a battle that looks more winnable with every passing week.

We might not be out of the mire just yet, but it is getting hard not to be impressed with the manner in which Tommy Wright and the team have turned their fortunes around in the space of a month and a half. Each week they seem to overcome a challenge that not so long ago would have been our undoing. Pre-Christmas, we would have lost to Curzon. Now, even when we’re off our game, we’re able to keep it tight at the back allowing us to stay competitive and provide a platform for the late winners. It feels like we’re only a couple of wins away from being safe, if not necessarily mathematically safe. With a run of fixtures against sides sitting below us in the table coming up there’s a great chance to maintain our good form and secure our place in the division.