AFC Fylde secured an end of season Play-off place with four games to spare courtesy of a hard-fought 1-0 victory against Ilkeston on Tuesday night.
Matt Blinkhorn scored the only goal of the game 11 minutes from time to claim all three points on a night where the title race was thrown wide open once again with results going in Fylde’s favour elsewhere in the league.
A couple of half chances fell for Fylde early on before the home side got into the game – Richie Allen and Blinkhorn sending efforts over the bar before Andy Russell headed wide.
A good period of possession for Ilkeston allowed Chey Adams and James Reid to shoot wide within minutes of each other mid-way through the half before another double chance for the Robins failed to break the deadlock through Rob Duffy and Adams.
A dominant end to the first period saw Richie Allen miss three great chances to give his side the lead – first he rode two tackles to shoot inches wide before forcing a good save from keeper Ross Etheridge after some great pass and move play between himself, Blinkhorn and Mike Barnes.
He was then played in by a great through-ball from Harry Winter but he couldn’t keep his low shot on target when one-on-one with Etheridge.
Into the second period and the home side created the better chances to snatch a lead but to no avail.
First half substitute Courey Grantham was the liveliest player, heading wide on 47 minutes before heading another cross wide four minutes later.
Duffy was unlucky to see the ball go through his legs as he tried to volley towards goal from 12 yards just before the hour and then he headed wide a minute later.
Ben Hinchliffe kept the score level on 68 minutes from another Duffy chance that was headed straight at him but low to the ground, and then Mike Williams headed over three minutes after.
Duffy was alive to pounce on Hinchliffe’s poor kick out of his hands 35 yards out, but his first time shot was very wayward and ended up going out for a throw-in in Fylde’s favour rather than capitalising on the keeper’s mistake.
Then, with 79 minutes on the clock, substitute Sean Cooke smashed a shot against the post but the rebound fell to Blinkhorn who lobbed the ball into the far corner of the net from outside the box.
Another Fylde substitute had a couple of chances to make sure of the points late on – Karl Noon shot wide before striking an effort straight at Etheridge when played in one-on-one with the Ilkeston keeper.
The Coasters held on to the lead through four more minutes of injury time and now sit in third place, just three points off the summit of the Evo-Stik Premier Division table.
Dave Challinor was delighted with the win at full time: “I think it was a difficult one to judge really as, even though we had a lot of possession in the first half, we weren’t moving the ball quick enough.
“Although we created a good chance in the first minute, we toiled a bit for the next 40 minutes before having three really good chances right on half time. If we’d have taken one of those it may have been a different game.
“We made a bold decision to keep three up top against their three at the back so we planned for it to be an open game.
“In the second half, by the time we get the goal I thought we’d opened it up again and with Barnesy playing at right back we had plenty of forwards on the pitch.
“Credit to Ilkeston though as they’re a very young side mixed in with a bit of experience and they worked their socks off and closed us down at every opportunity.”
Up next for The Coasters is the Doodson Sport Cup Final on Sunday afternoon against Skelmersdale United, kick off 3pm at Edgeley Park, before the visit of Blyth Spartans to Kellamergh Park on Wednesday night.
AFC Fylde: Hinchliffe, Hankin (Noon 60), Sumner, Langley, Russell, B. Barnes (C), M. Barnes, C. Hughes (Cooke 60), Blinkhorn, Winter, Allen (Lloyd 80); Subs not used: Booth, Gregory.