Ramsbottom United maintained their push for a play-off place with an emphatic victory in the east Lancashire derby.

Having succumbed early in the season at home to Padiham, they gained their revenge on an afternoon when the three points rarely looked in doubt thanks to two early goals which set the tone for the match.

Despite losing influential midfielder Gary Stopforth due to a suspension, the Rams were able to welcome back Dominic Smalley after a lengthy lay-off, and he looked back to his best as he lasted over an hour.

Playing downhill, Danny Warrender was inches away from connecting with a Grant Spencer cross, before two goals in quick succession put the visitors in the driving seat.

On 13 minutes, a left-wing Spencer corner found Jordan Hulme almost on his knees at the far post as he managed to get his head to the ball and direct it into the roof of the net from close range.

Within two minutes, the same combination doubled the advantage.

This time, the corner was swung in from the right, and Hulme again found space by the far post to flick the ball in from five yards out.

Spencer had a shout for a penalty turned down when his shot appeared to strike a defender’s arm, before the same player sent in a rasping free-kick which Sean Davis in the home goal was relieved to gather.

Another corner caused problems for the home defence, and Lee Gaskell applied the final touch which saw his header clip the bar and sail over.

As the half progressed, Padiham finally made inroads into the Rams defence, with both Chris Turner and former Ram Keiron Pickup going close from free-kicks.

For the most part, the Rams were in control, and further efforts from Spencer and Hulme could have extended the lead as the half-time whistle sounded.

Full-back Owen Roberts almost added to the score early in the second half.  Firstly, he drove inches over the bar from just outside the area, before watching his free-kick sail inches over the top.

Fine work on the left wing from Phil Dean saw Gaskell go agonizingly close to nodding in a third, but he was not to be denied on the hour mark as he shrugged off a defender to latch onto a neat through ball from Spencer, and drive it home from 15 yards past an exposed Davis in goal.

The Storks substitute Louis Mayers tested Grant Shenton in the Rams goal with a fierce 25-yarder, moments before the home side found a consolation.

On 71 minutes, Danny Boyle found space to fire home from close range as the ball fell kindly for him in the area to make the score 3-1.

Just four minutes later, any hopes the home side had of staging a comeback were soon extinguished by a contender for goal-of-the-season.

Dean gathered the ball in his own half before setting off on a mazy run up-field.  He skipped past three challenges as he broke into the area and confidently fired past Davis to restore the three goal advantage. A quite superb solo effort.

The visitors continued to attack, and with the minutes ticking down, substitute Darren Green saw his goal-bound effort flicked round by Davis for a corner, from which Gaskell looked on in frustration as his header clipped the outside of the post.

Green still had time to fire in a free-kick that cleared the bar by inches as the Rams completed a comfortable win to confirm their challenge for the end-of-season lottery and a place in Evo-Stik Premier.

On this showing, the odds must be very much in their favour.

RAMSBOTTOM UNITED: Shenton, Warrender, Roberts, Spencer, Pilkington, Priestley, Smalley(Toth 68mins), Burton, Gaskell, Hulme(Green 68mins), Dean. Subs not used: Morley, Johnson

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