Percy Main seed off Gateshead Rutherford as both sides finish with ten men
In-form Percy Main recorded their fourth successive victory, but were made to wait until late on to make sure of the points.
Chris Laidlaw’s injury time strike, his eighth goal of the season, finally put paid to Rutherford’s resistance as the home side ran out 3-1 winners.
Despite there being seemingly little needle between the sides, the game boiled over just past the hour mark with a melee around the halfway line which involved just about all those on the pitch.
The fracas led to the dismissal of Main’s Steven Hurd and Rutherford’s Craig Feney.
It was a more workmanlike performance from the home side, who grafted for their win and without doubt deserved the points.
Post match comparisons were drawn to the early part of the season when all too often the opposition had been seemingly gifted goals and games which might have been won were subsequently lost, whereas the belief in the current squad was apparent for all to see.
Once again Main were forced to ring the changes due to unavailability and an injury crisis which, among others, had ruled out in-form top scorer Sam Thompson and Dan Sneap, who were both forced to watch from the sidelines.
But one boost for the home management team was the return to fitness of Joe Betts, who had not figured since October, and he weighed in with two goals, although one carried a suspicion of an own goal.
But that would not worry the home side who will have also gained a confidence booster ahead of the Bill Gardner Cup semi-final against the same side later this month.
The corresponding league game at Rutherford’s Beggarswood base in October had resulted in a dour and fairly uneventful 1-1 draw, and the opening period of this contest promised the same as neither side seemed to threaten within the opening quarter of an hour.
It was the visitors who were first to show, Steve Thomson upended Ross Nicholson on the edge of the area and from Alex White’s right wing kick Nick Hay curled an effort just over the crossbar.
Further action at Main’s goal saw White and Gary Brown just wide of the target, while Thomson pulled off a great block to thwart Nicholson.
As the half wore on Percy Main came more into the game as Jack Armstrong, who had probably his best game for the Villagers, found Adam Green who fired a fizzing effort just over the angle, then Betts was played in by Rob Watson and faced with the on-rushing goalkeeper could only put his shot just the wrong side of the post.
With half-time approaching, Betts atoned as Watson again provided the ammunition, this time from a deep left wing centre, Rob Ridley had an attempt at the far post and Betts forced the ball home from close range to give his side the lead.
Following the restart, Armstrong did well to make up ground down the right and brought a save from Daniel Bullock in the Rutherford goal, and Green again went close from Betts’ clever flick.
But it was not all Percy Main and the warning signs were there for all to see as Rutherford’s leading scorer Nicholson, lurking at the far post, headed a right wing corner into the side-netting.
On 56 minutes, Main gained breathing space as Green, pushed into a more forward role than normal, burst into the area and centred low from the left and Betts, assisted by the presence of Redmond Cockburn, forced the ball home despite the desperate efforts of the visitors’ defence.
Minutes later Rob Rodgerson in the home goal produced a stunning point blank save to deny Nicholson, before both sides were reduced to ten men.
The five-minute delay while order was restored and the culprits banished seemed to favour the visitors, and when Dean McCallum curled home a superb free kick from just outside the area following a foul by Cockburn, it left those watching to wonder if a comeback may have been on the cards.
Those worries were almost brought home only two minutes later as Craig Cowell headed narrowly over from McCallum’s flag kick.
With a minute played over the 90, Rodgerson again pulled off a great save following a goalmouth scramble.
But Percy Main restored their two-goal advantage as the hard-working Laidlaw chased down a loose ball, rounded Bullock and rolled the ball into an empty net.
Percy Main will travel to Northbank Carlisle on Saturday. Kick-off is 2:30pm.