A two goal lead after twenty minutes flattered Reds somewhat but, instead of taking advantage of the situation and going on to record a comfortable win, they were hanging on for a draw by the finish.
Northwich, to their credit, enjoyed plenty of possession in the first half and dominated much of the second yet had created few clear-cut opportunities. But they were unlucky not to bag all three points as Reds went AWOL in the final quarter of an hour.
Indeed, there was a collective sigh of relief from the Workington faithful as Aaron Smith’s twenty five yard free kick rattled the crossbar seconds before the final whistle.
Reds had gone in front in the third minute with a delightful low strike from Steven Rigg – his first of the season – after good link-up play with Connor Gaul. But an injury to Brad Hubbold soon after curtailed the early euphoria.
Hubbold appeared to be yet another hamstring victim as he hobbled from the pitch after just seven minutes and his all-round game was certainly missed, despite a fine contribution from his replacement, Keelan Leslie.
It was against the run of play when the hosts doubled their advantage in the twentieth minute after catching Northwich in possession and countering quickly. Gaul rounded the last defender to score his first goal for the club with a low strike to the far corner of ‘Tony’ Aghayere’s net.
So a two-nil advantage to Workington and that was still the situation with twenty minutes to go with neither side doing little to add to the score-line in between. The game seemed to be meandering aimlessly to a somewhat undeserved Workington win when their good fortune ran out.
Callum Gardner’s well struck shot was certainly heading for goal, and the ball did hit Sam Smith’s hand, but there was no deliberate hand-to-ball movement as his arm remained by his side. Nevertheless, the referee awarded the penalty and 1874 skipper, Matthew Woolley, calmly reduced the arrears from the spot.
And from that moment in the seventy-eighth minute, the feeling was that Reds would struggle to see out the game, and so it proved.
The equaliser came five minutes before the end of normal time and a scrappy goal it was too. The ball was pinging about in the six yard area with Reds, surrounded by green shirts, unable to clear the danger with the last touch possibly by a Workington player. The ball didn’t actually hit the net but was signalled as over the line by the well positioned assistant referee.
And it could have been even worse for out-of-sorts Reds as Northwich finished strongly. Aaron Smith took on the ‘cross-bar’ challenge and, thankfully, the ball thumped against the woodwork and deflected to safety, with Jim Atkinson beaten.
The injury crisis has finally caught up with Reds and a few more disjointed performances like this will, almost certainly, cost them the West Division leadership.
Workington: Atkinson, Clarke, Charlton, Harrison, Smith, Casson, Bowman (Tinnion, 63), Hubbold (Leslie, 7), Rigg, Marshall (Rowe, 75), Gaul. Substitutes – Wordsworth, Eccles (not used).
1874 Northwich: Aghayere, Koral, Kennerley, Foulds, Jones, Ormrod, Woolley J (Smith A, 69), Woolley M, Woods (Parker, 61), Irlam, Gardner. Substitutes – Russell, Marrow, Mitchell (not used).
Referee Alex Beckett, Preston
Booking: Foulds (1874 Northwich)