It was almost compromised with just seconds remaining – but Jack Little’s penalty save at Rylands on Saturday handed Barnoldswick Town their first clean sheet in 16 games.
The visitors held a 1-0 lead in Warrington when Marc Young brought down Kane Drummond in the box in the second minute of injury time.
Louis Coyne stepped up to take the spot kick, firing low to his left hand side, but Little got a fingertip to the ball to keep the effort out, before Drummond blazed over from the rebound.
It was the first time since a 5-0 win at Abbey Hey in the first round of the Buildbase FA Vase in October that Town had shut the opposition out.
“That was our first clean sheet for a while,” said boss Endrit Shehu.
“The last one was ages ago – I think it was against Abbey Hey in the cup.
“But our last one in the league was that long ago I can’t even remember it. They’re the best results, because you’ve got to graft and work harder in a 1-0.
“The boys were brilliant, they were effective and they had to give everything to protect that lead. It was a clean sheet against fifth in the league as well, which makes it even more special.
“Aside from the penalty, Jack only had one save to make. They had most of the ball, but we negated their threat. I made eight changes from the 8-4 defeat against 1874 Northwich and that tells me a lot.”
The last time Town had kept the door locked in the Hallmark Security Premier Division was in a 2-0 triumph over Litherlands REMYCA at the Silentnight Stadium in late September.
They had to battle just as hard to preserve their slender advantage at the Rylands Recreation Club, after Andy Hill had opened the scoring in the fourth minute.
The midfielder’s strike from the edge of the penalty area, after Coyne had cleared a corner, grazed the glove of goalkeeper Callum Spencer before finishing up in the corner of the net.
And Shehu was delighted for the match-winner, who was given his opportunity after Ethan Kershaw joined Longridge Town.
“We didn’t want Ethan to leave, but it has freed some space up for the other lads to challenge,” he said.
“Ethan is a great player, he trains hard and he’ll go on to do well. However, with conditions as they are, Andy Hill has come in and given us that balance.
“He knows when to play short and when to switch play by going more direct. Sometimes things happen that force your hand and lead you to try something new. It worked out for us.”
Ryan Shenton, who has netted six times in as many games for Town since moving from New Mills, almost extended the lead early in the second half when his attempt, crafted by Reece Barrett’s pass, cannoned back off the post.
Shehu said: “Ryan had started pre-season with FC United and he’d been playing in friendlies. They sent him out on loan to get him some game time and then he ended up at New Mills.
“That’s where we’ve picked him up from. He’s been good. When a new face comes in they’ve got to impress and he’s done that straight away.
“I’ve played him out on the left, on the right and as a number nine, even though he’s a number 10. He’s enjoyed it.”
Town entertain Skelmersdale United tomorrow and Shehu is encouraging his players to make their efforts at the weekend count.
“It’s a big game,” he said. “We need to back up all our hard work from the weekend, otherwise it’s pointless. We need to build some consistency.
“Most of the points we’ve dropped so far have come against teams below us in the table so we need to stop that habit. We’re confident going in to the game.”
In the East Lancashire League Division One, Town were beaten 3-0 at home to reigning champions Mill Hill, following a lengthy spell of inactivity due to waterlogged pitches and the festive period.
This was a fine performance by Town despite the result.
They are at Burnley Belvedere tomorrow, at 2 p.m.