On a dank and miserable afternoon in west Yorkshire, Ramsbottom United made heavy weather of gaining the three points their superiority deserved.
Against a struggling home side with the worst defensive record in the league, the Rams had the ball in the net eight times, but only three of them were considered legitimate by the match officials.
The visitors controlled the game from start to finish, but a couple of pieces of sloppy defending and the inability to avoid straying offside had them in danger of surrendering the three points that were always there for the asking.
As early as the ninth minute Gaskell did manage to beat the offside trap as he raced on to a through ball and beat the keeper only for a defender to concede a corner with some desperate defending. From the resultant corner the ball landed in the back of the net for what was to become a regular occurance, but the referee gave a free-kick for a foul that no-one else appeared to see.
Home custodian Sam Dobbs was then well placed to block a shot from Tom Brooks after a fine run to the by-line from Grant Spencer.
A marauding run by Jordan Hulme saw his effort diverted for a corner, before Lee Gaskell went down in the area, but the referee waved play on.
Jon Robinson raced into the area but failed to open the scoring when his final effort was cleared by the feet of Dobbs, then Spencer sent his shot over the bar, as the one-way traffic continued.
The break-through finally came on 32 minutes. Smalley’s run into the box fed Hulme, and as he swung the ball goal-wards, Gaskell hammered it home from close range, and despite quizzical looks from the home defenders, this time the linesman kept his flag down.
Not so fortunate were Brooks and Phil Dean, who both had goals chalked off by the same official.
As half-time approached, Dobbs was lucky to stay on the pitch. A fine threaded ball sent Danny Warrender scurrying towards goal. Dobbs came racing off his line and clattered into the Rams defender, but was fortunate in only receiving a yellow card whilst conceding the free-kick.
It came as a shock when, in the first minute of time added on, the home side grabbed an equaliser.
Robert Boardman was left unmarked on the edge of the box, and as the ball came in from the right, he turned and fired past Grant Shenton into the far bottom corner to give the home side a lifeline they barely deserved.
Wakefield almost grabbed an early lead after the break when Boardman was inches off target from 20 yards, but the Rams lack of luck and fire power showed itself just moments later. A free-kick on the edge of the box from Owen Roberts, beat the wall, but as Dobbs dived by his post, the ball somehow rebounded off him and over the bar.
On 62 minutes, the Rams finally went ahead again. Good work by Smalley down the right created the space to fire in a low cross which Dean gratefully slid home from close range.
Another Smalley cross minutes later was again converted, but once more the linesman’s flag indicated that Gaskell was in an offside position.
A rare venture into the Rams half of the field resulted in another unexpected equaliser for the home side. A free-kick just outside the box was driven round the wall by Boardman, and in at the near post.
Normality resumed with yet more Rams’ attacks, and when Gaskell put the ball into the back of the net from a Robinson header, there was yet more despair as he looked round to see the spectre of the flag once again being raised.
On 78 minutes, another good run down the left by Dean created the space to drive in a low angled cross, and Robinson beat his marker to flick the ball in from close range. Once again the Rams had nudged in front.
Two minutes later, the home side nearly produced another unexpected leveller, when Boardman went close to his hat-trick as his 25 yard lob clipped the top of the bar.
A double substitution saw the Rams sacrifice two strikers for two midfield players and from then on, they held on to their advantage, but they made the game hard for themselves, as the away side should have been well out of sight before the last nervous ten minutes.
RAMSBOTTOM UNITED: Shenton, Hulme, Roberts, Gaskell, Warrender, Priestley, Smalley, Spencer, Robinson(Edghill 81mins), Brooks(Pilkington 81mins), Dean. Subs not used: Toth, Dawson, Morley