Josh Greening’s injury-time winner knocked the stuffing out of former club Bridlington Town on Saturday as he took Tadcaster Albion ten points clear in the NCEL Premier.
The visitors raced into a two-goal lead inside 20 minutes but the momentum swung back in Town’s favour.
After they pulled level with 10 minutes to go, the Seasiders seemed the more likely winners.
But Christmas stories often have a predictable ending, and no-one should have been surprised that the leaders would snatch the points at the death. Or that the goal would come from an ex-Bridlington player in Greening.
It was cruel on Bridlington, and the celebrations after the goal and at full time proved they knew they had been given a scare at Queensgate.
Things had looked like a formality in the early stages. The league’s top scorer Greening almost opened the scoring with a cross that home keeper James Hitchcock had to flick away from under his crossbar at full stretch.
On 14 minutes, the Brewers did get off the mark. Tom Fleming bundled over Calum Ward and Liam Ormsby scored direct from the free kick, although Brid’s wall seemed too flimsy.
Another returning striker, Carl Stewart, headed over from Greening’s left-wing cross but he made no mistake on 17 minutes. He outmuscled Alex Knaggs and easily beat Hitchcock from 15 yards.
Slowly, Town settled and fought their way into the game when they could easily have buckled under the pressure. A weak punch landed at the feet of Eddy Birch but he fired over from outside the box.
Visiting keeper Peter Lawrie redeemed himself a few moments later when he smartly pushed away a drive by Ombeni Ruhanduka, after Chris Adams set the striker away beind the Taddy defence.
The leaders should have gone three up when Greening was presented with a great chance, but Hitchcock flew to his left and denied him when it looked certain he would score. That would have killed Town off, but instead they went down the other end and scored, from an unlikely source, and in an even more unlikely manner.
Duka gave chase to a long ball and got there before Lawrie. The keeper forced him wide but Duka patiently squared to Birch, and he unselfishly passed to full back Benn Lewis. Lawrie had got back to his line but could do nothing about Lewis’ exquisite chip which landed in the far corner of the net.
A quite brilliant way to score his first goal for Town.
The narrowest of offside decisions denied Town an equaliser soon afterwards, as the linesman’s flag went up before Adams produced a chip to match Lewis’ effort.
Greening tried his luck from long-range but his attempt was straight at Hitchcock, before danger man Duka spurned a glorious chance to equalise. Adams supplied a lovely cross but the unmarked striker volleyed wide from eight yards out.
On the stroke of half-time, tempers flared. An awful challenge on Lewis near the dugout went unpunished, and another hefty challenge seconds later sparked a conforntation involving 21 players.
Referee Paul Cook spent a minute deciding what to do, and decided to do nothing at all - a decision which must have baffled Danny Brunton who had been booked earlier for one of the weakest tackles of the afternoon.
Everything was set up nicely for the second half, and the conditions were showing no sign of easing. They played their part immediately after the break as Hitchcock missed his kick and raced back against Stewart to try to get to the ball first. Stewart won the race, and scored, but referee Cook awarded a foul against the keeper.
Lewis had spent most of half time on the pitch, trying to run off the injury he sustained, but had to admit defeat and go off, before Town skipper Tom Fleming picked up his weekly yellow card, this time for dissent.
Sub Conner Harman followed him into the book for a foul, but this time Ormsby’s free kick was saved by Hitchcock.
The game became more scrappy but Town were still in with a shout, which had seemed an unlikely scenario after 20 minutes.
Adams spun sharply in the area but couldn’t keep his shot down, while Duka’s pace was making Tadcaster’s defence look vulnerable.
Bookings were arriving more frequently than clear-cut chances, but Hitchcock did well to deny Josh Barrett after he wriggled past Will Waudby.
Then came Brid’s deserved equaliser. With seven minutes to go, Ash Allanson’s 25-yarder slipped through Lawrie’s hands and into the net.
The hosts needed an outstanding headed clearance from Chris Jenkinson to clear the danger from a Taddy attack, and there was more controversy when a surging run by sub Craig Hogg ended with a foul. He was adamant it was inside the area, referee Cook surprised nobody when he awarded a free kick outside the box.
Birch failed to repeat Ormsby’s accuracy from a dead ball situation, and to add insult to injury, Tadcaster struck in injury time.
With 91 minutes on the clock, Greening got to the ball in front of Hitchcock and tapped into an empty net.
It was harsh on the Seasiders, but Albion showed precisely the type of never-say-die attutude and ruthless finishing which wins titles. They knew they had been in a game though.