Chorley 4 Skelmersdale 1

‘A mammoth effort’ was delighted Chorley manager Garry Flitcroft’s verdict after seeing his gutsy battlers shrug off their midweek FA Trophy disappointment and take a giant stride towards the NPL Premier Division title in an enthralling shoot-out with the current league leaders. In front of a tremendous crowd of 1,968 – the league’s season’s best – the Magpies survived a few early scares to put Skelmersdale to the sword and close the gap at the top to one point with four games in hand.

Home keeper Sam Ashton had pulled off a stunning early save to scoop off the line Adam Morning’s downward header and Dean Astbury dragged a clear shot wide as the visitors initially called the tune.

It was against the run of play when Chorley seized the lead on 26 minutes from a sublime Paul Jarvis free-kick skillfully curled into the top corner. Boosted by the spectacular strike, the home side took control and made it two on 39 minutes, James Dean looping a header beyond ex-Magpie keeper Zac Hibbert.

A minute from half-time it was 3-0 when Darren Stephenson capitalised on disarray in the visitors’ defence to set up a simple finish for Jack Dorney to celebrate his return to the club.

Shell-shocked Skelmersdale reasserted themselves after the restart and Ashton was at his most alert in fisting aside a well-struck Neil Prince drive.

But the leaders were not long denied, Tom Hardwick (54 minutes) heading in a by-line free-kick at the back post.

The Magpies showed their character to dig deep and they began to look the more likely to score again. And so it proved.

After Hibbert had bravely blocked a fierce shot from substitute Josh Hine – the former Skelmersdale hot-shot completed the Magpies’ joy and an ultimately emphatic victory six minutes from time by again racing clear and tucking away the home side’s fourth to set up a richly deserved standing ovation at the final whistle.