WARRINGTON Town suffered a controversial 1-0 defeat to play-off rivals Hednesford Town thanks to a first half penalty.
Three crucial decisions, two on the stroke of half-time, went against the visitors on a rain-sodden Saturday afternoon at Keys Park.
The Yellows will feel at least two of them were the wrong decision, particularly the incident that saw right-back Mitch Duggan sent off in first half injury time.
Despite that, they had the better of the play throughout the game and also had the best chances in open play, twice hitting the woodwork through Samuel Ilesamni and Gerard Kinsella.
But it wasn’t to be their day, and it was another costly defeat in the race for the play-off places in the Evo-Stik Premier League ahead of the busy festive schedule.
Manager Paul Carden named an unchanged starting 11 from last weekend’s 3-0 win at Frickley, with captain Ciaran Kilheeney returning from injury amongst the substitutes.
It was a new signing for Hednesford that almost opened the scoring inside four minutes, Spencer Weir-Daley cutting inside and flashing a shot just wide of Tony McMillan’s left hand post.
In a really open and entertaining first half, the Yellows had their best chance when Ilesamni rattled the crossbar with a header from Duggan’s cross.
As time passed, the Yellows started to turn the screw and two Eddie Toner set pieces had the home side alert in defence.
Ilesamni turned and shot over from the edge of the box, before Rory McKeown’s low drive from 30 yards was pushed wide by the goalkeeper after a deflection.
But the game turned in the final few minutes of the first half.
Hednesford winger David McDermott went down theatrically under a challenge from Lewis Codling for a soft penalty, which was converted by Ashley Sammons despite the efforts of McMillan.
And Warrington’s woe was compounded moments later when Duggan was given a straight red for a tackle on Tony Clarke, despite clearly winning all of the ball, the referee later stating that he felt that both of Duggan’s feet had left the ground.
That left Warrington with an uphill struggle in the second half, though they did their best.
A half-time reshuffle saw Adam Carden, brother of manager Paul, come on for Codling down the right, and for large parts of the second half, the Yellows dominated.
That was after Sammons was denied by a superb McMillan save in the opening exchanges after the break.
The closest Warrington were to come to a deserved equaliser was when impressive substitute Gerard Kinsella hit the post from a curling right foot shot.
It was from the subsequent melee in the box that the third controversial incident of the game came.
Craig Robinson’s goal bound shot was diverted wide by what seemed to be a defender’s hand, but it was waved away by the referee to the disbelief of several players and the Warrington Town faithful behind that goal.
Warrington continued to huff and puff in the final quarter, but just couldn’t carve out a clear opening, Scott Metcalfe coming the closest with a wild shot that went just over of the corner of the goal.
Hednesford held on for an important three points to consolidate their place in the top five, while Warrington will now look to their next game at home to Stafford next Saturday.
Hednesford Town: Crane, Rowley, Flanagan, Thorley, Brenan, Caines, Sheldon, Sammons, Clarke (McNaugh), Weir-Daley (Leek), McDermott (Matthews). Unused subs: Mutton, Shearer.
Warrington Town: McMillan, Duggan, McKeown, Ventre, Robinson, McCarten, Codling (Carden), Toner (Kinsella), Hattersley, Ilesamni (Metcalfe), Harries. Unused subs: Shaw, Kilheeney.