AFC Emley stretched their lead to eight points clear at the top of the Toolstation Northern Counties East League’s Division One table after coming from behind to beat Penistone Church 2-1.
Their derby rivals remain in second place after the top of the table clash, but could not prevent Emley manager Darren Hepworth’s side extending their unbeaten run to 11 games.
However, the visitors set the pace and Brett Lovell prodded in from a goalmouth scramble midway through the first half to put Penistone ahead, but goals from Aaron Joseph and Ashley Flynn scored inside nine minutes during the second half ensured all three points stayed at the Fantastic Media Welfare Ground.
Emley’s Kieran Ryan and Church’s Ryan Johnson were both sent off following a mass brawl, but Hepworth believed that worked in the hosts’ favour – despite losing his captain to a three game ban.
Ryan will miss crucial games against Grimsby Borough and Pontefract Collieries in the coming weeks, but the strength in depth that Hepworth has in forward positions will mean he is confident of coping.
Those two fixtures are games that Emley will have to start brightly as the home side’s start was far from sparkling against a well-organised Penistone side who had clearly done their homework.
Their hard work was rewarded in the 36th minute when defender Lovell stabbed the ball home, but not long after the game took a sour turn.
A mass brawl resulted in the dismissal of Ryan and Johnson for either side, and Emley’s second half didn’t start the way Hepworth would have liked to but encouraging signs began to become clear when the hosts’ fitness levels began to tell.
Liam Schofield’s marvellous run allowed him space to dart into the box and pick out an unmarked Joseph at the back post.
On the day where his partner gave birth to twins, the midfielder didn’t need a second invitation.
Flynn soon fired Emley into the lead with 20 minutes to go when Ash Scully’s wonderful flick was met by the league’s top scorer, who held off his defender and lashed into the top corner.
Emley held onto a precious three points despite a nerve-racking finale and subsequently went undefeated in the league since October 18.
In the week that marked the 19-year anniversary of Emley’s FA Cup trip to Upton Park to face West Ham United, goalscorer on that day Paul David, as well as ex-player Neil Lacey were amongst the 418 at the Fantastic Media Welfare Ground.
The attendance went into the record books as the league’s highest attendance of the season, fittingly to watch the league’s top scorer Flynn take his season’s tally up to 37.