Alfreton Town gave themselves real hope of a fifth term in the Conference Premier when they returned from Kent on Saturday with a vital win over Dartford, which maintained their three-point gap above the drop zone.
Tom Shaw’s late, late winner hailed the Reds’ third win on the trot without conceding a goal, and they had not achieved that since their Conference North promotion season when they attained five such wins.
If ever the footballing term of a mini-league was relevant then Alfreton have epitomised that theory, because they have a staggering 100 per cent record from the eight games against the four teams below them and the team that is immediately above the Reds.
Doubles already recorded over Southport, AFC Telford United and Nuneaton Town have been supplemented by away wins at Welling and now Dartford, with both those teams still to visit the lmpact Arena.
With their fate very much in their own hands Alfreton were able to reflect on a difficult game on an awful surface, with ball control at a premium, but they stuck to their task to merit their first win in three visits to Princes Park.
With Bradley Wood fully recovered after fears of a serious injury seven days earlier manager Nicky Law was able to name an unchanged starting line-up, but the Reds took time to adjust to the playing conditions.
Dartford skipper Elliot Bradbrook fired over from 18 yards on six minutes, then seven minutes later Reds’ keeper Jason Mooney held Andy Pugh’s awkward cross from the left, then Danny Harris flashed a shot across the face of the Alfreton goal.
It was midway through the first half before the Reds could make their presence felt, home keeper Deren lbrahim impeded by his own full-back Jamie Richards as Karl Hawley whipped in a cross from an Andi Thanoj pass, the loose ball falling to John Johnston who could not attain a firm touch on the bobbly surface.
A 26th minute Thanoj free-kick was cleared only as far as Callum Howe, whose angled drive was held at the near post by lbrahim, then almost immediately it was Mooney’s turn to react to a powerful shot from Pugh.
Johnston steered Dan Bradley’s cross wide of the back post as the half hour mark was reached, then Bradley met the brick wall that was Tom Dallison after a promising central run.
Pugh’s 36th minute free-kick flashed harmlessly through a crowded goalmouth, then Mooney again saved from the same player, before Alfreton fans breathed a collective sigh of relief when Wood emerged unscathed from a crunching tackle that earned Lee Noble a caution three minutes before the break.
The pace increased as the second half evolved, Rory McAuley heading wide from a Peter Sweeney free-kick for Dartford, while Johnston sprinted clear for the Reds only to delay his cross for a fraction on the uneven pitch which caught Bradley off-side.
Bradley floated a cross-cum-shot from 20 yards on 62 minutes, causing lbrahim the minimum of anguish, then Johnston could not keep a Thanoj through-ball in play which again could be contributed to the adverse conditions.
A deflected shot by Thanoj was hacked behind in desperation by Dallison with lbrahim wrong-footed, then the keeper managed to punch clear a Joe Leesley free-kick under pressure from Lathaniel Rowe-Turner.
Pugh was in the mix again for the hosts, with his 70th minute attempt again repelled by Mooney, then 12 minutes from time Hawley struck the foot of the back post from a Joe lronside pass and that looked to have been Alfreton’s winning opportunity evaporated.
However the substitutes combined to produce that vital 89th decider that stemmed from a deep Mooney free-kick, Anthony Howell’s flick across the box controlled by Hawley and set up for Shaw to rifle low past lbrahim from ten yards.
ALFRETON: Mooney; Graham, Howe, Rowe-Turner, Wood, Johnston (Leesley 63), Thanoj, Lenighan, Bradley (Shaw 81), Hawley, Ironside (Howell 83). Subs not used: Heaton, Courtney.