Tadcaster Albion produced a clinical display to amass a seven point advantage in the Northern Counties East League at Christmas.
Marksmen Calum Ward, Carl Stewart and Josh Greening were on target as the table topping Brewers dispatched a lively and dangerous Heanor Town 3-0 at the i2i Stadium.
Heanor’s Kieran Debrouwer struck the crossbar in the first half before Ward broke the deadlock for the high-flying hosts minutes before the break.
Stewart slotted in Tad’s second midway through the second half and Greening capped the victory with an equally clinical finish late on.
Heanor caused issues to the home defence in the fiery contest, but when the excellent centre back pairing of Andy Milne and Matt Sparkes were breached, goalkeeper Peter Lawrie produced a couple of fine saves to keep the slate clean.
The win leaves Albion more than two victories ahead of second-placed Worksop Town, whose match at Athersley Recreation was postponed on Saturday, with Heanor fifth.
Missing experienced pair Jonathan Greening and Denny Ingram through suspension and club captain Nick Thompson through injury, Albion boss Paul Marshall reverted to 4-4-2 with Ward partnering Stewart up front and Tom Claisse featuring in midfield.
Heanor had pace and power in an attacking three but it was matched by Albion’s calmness at the back.
However, one moment of panic almost gave the visitors the lead when Debrouwer raced towards an open goal, only to be halted by Sparkes’ desperate lunge. Lawrie dived gratefully on the ball in the ensuing scramble while Sparkes required treatment after taking a painful blow.
Debrouwer, playing on the right flank of the three, then hit the crossbar with a left-footed curling shot from the edge of the area, having been given too much time by the Albion midfield.
Albion poached the lead shortly before the break with their first real opportunity. Stewart’s initial shot was excellently blocked by Heanor’s Chris Shaw before Ward’s sharp turn and shot saw the ball divert in off goalkeeper Ian Deakin.
The hosts were fortunate to lead into the interval, and they again required the security of the back four to avert dangers into the second period.
Lawrie earned his corn with a point-blank diving stop to divert right-back Greg Marriot’s fierce shot away before the ‘keeper clutched Debrouwer’s free-kick from distance.
Gary Ricketts, who has 15 goals to his name this season, then blazed another Heanor chance over as the visitors continued to press for an equaliser.
Tensions between the two in-form sides reached boiling point on a couple of occasions as the game continued to to and fro on a knife edge.
However, it was the league leaders who found the answers. Greening set up a swift counter-attack with a perfectly floated pass into Carl Stewart’s path, and the prolific striker took the ball into his stride before slotting past Deakin.
That would be the striker’s final act before he was replaced by new signing Danny Gray, who arrived back to Tadcaster from Selby Town last week.
With the Tadcaster Supporters Club in full voice, Greening ensured the points were safe late on as he benefitted from a weak pass back to round Deakin and pass the ball into the net.
His celebration into the arms of the group of young supporters behind the goal was embraced by the whole Taddy squad, who recognised the importance of the victory.
The two second-half goals knocked the stuffing out of the Heanor, who were perhaps fortunate to remain with a full contingent late on when Daniel Booth pushed Gray in the face - escaping with a yellow.
However, Albion march on at the top as they surpassed the 50-point mark at their half-way stage of the season.
Marshall’s men next head to the east coast to face Bridlington Town on December 28, before the Seasiders return to the i2i Stadium on January 4.