Ramsbottom United finally beat New Mills at the tenth attempt, but in keeping with tradition, they had to do it the hard way.

The Millers had won all but two of the previous nine meetings between the two clubs, with just two draws being the reward for the Rams attempts over the years.

However, after seemingly strolling through the early stages of this one, a bad injury and a sending off ensured that their fight to finally grasp three points off their opponents was never going to be easy.

The visitors had the perfect start, however, when a through ball down the slope confused the defender and Lee Gaskell raced on to plant a firm shot past Peter Collinge in the home goal.

That early boost seemed to spur the Rams on as they launched attack after attack with Dean, twice, and Pilkington all going close to extending the lead.

But on 14 minutes came the injury which saw the Rams having to re-shuffle. Grant Shenton made a fine close range save from the over-lapping Dan Hewitt, but in doing so, caught the ball below his body, and badly injured his left ankle.

It proved to be a double blow for the Rams, for, after lengthy treatment to the keeper, from a throw-in that resulted, the ball was fed back into the middle of the area where the unmarked Dan Shaw fired home from 15 yards to level the scores.

Shenton tried to carry on, but it was obvious he was in pain. His defenders did an admiral job of ensuring that he had nothing to do for the next 15 minutes, whilst the attackers helped the cause by firing in another two goals.

On 25 minutes Grant Spencer sent over a superb ball to Phil Dean on the left. Dean made his way to the by-line before putting over a cross for Gaskell to nod home by the far post.

Five minutes later, the striker completed a 26-minute hat-trick with the goal of the game.

Owen Roberts floated a diagonal 50 yard ball over the Millers defence into the path of Gaskell, who fired home an unstoppable volley from an acute angle, that flew in off the far post.

3-1 to the Rams, at which point any attempt to keep Shenton on the pitch was proving fruitless. On came joint-manager Bernard Morley to replace the custodian, and take his place between the sticks, as he had done on an odd occasion in the past.

Then came the tale of two penalties, which in effect, totally transformed the game.

On 37 minutes, Darren Green was adjudged to have been brought down in the area, and up stepped Spencer to dispatch what would probably have been a game-ending penalty. Alas, he struck the ball over the bar and the score remained at 3-1.

Just before half-time another penalty was awarded, this time to the home side. Morley and Billy Priestley made a hash of collecting a loose ball in the area, and in so doing, a home forward went sprawling. James Hampson took the responsibility, and unlike Spencer, his effort found the back of the net.

From a possible 4-1 advantage, the Rams went in for the break with a slim 3-2 lead.

Gaskell was having a fine game. He almost added to his tally with an overhead kick that just cleared the bar, and early in the second half he twice went close to opening up a bigger gap between the sides. A header from a Dean cross was cleared by the post, before he spotted Collinge off his line, but his delicate lob again just cleared the bar.

Spencer fed Green, but his goal-bound shot was deflected for a corner, then Roberts tantalising cross fell just past the far post.

Green should have found the target from 15 yards but fired wide before the Rams were reduced to ten men.

Dominic Smalley barged a Millers forward off the ball on the edge of the area, and the referee deemed him to be the last man and promptly showed the red card.

That loss turned the game completely.

Playing down the slope, the home side threw everything at the visitors, with free-kick after free-kick having to be dealt with by the defenders and make-shift keeper.

Morley did all he was asked to do, including a superb close range stop from Mike Smith who volleyed goalwards from ten yards out. Morley dived to his right to push what looked like a certain equaliser for a corner.

Having resisted all the late pressure, Gaskell could well have killed the game off in the final minutes when he chased the ball into the area. He drove his shot straight at Collinge though, but the whistle sounded a couple of minutes later much to the relief of the large band of Ramsbottom supporters who had made the journey to the Peak District.

A hard-earned three points from a game that had everything. A hat-trick, two penalties, a sending-off and a nasty injury. In the end, despite the late rearguard action, the Rams took the points their overall play deserved, and they were all the sweeter having at last come at the expense of New Mills.

The race for the play-offs shows no sign of abating.

RAMSBOTTOM UNITED: Shenton (Morley 34mins), Smalley, Roberts, Stopforth, Warrender, Priestley, Spencer, Pilkington, Gaskell, Green (Hulme 75mins), Dean. Subs not used: Toth, Johnson

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