Have we just seen the National League North champions? Boston United were blown away by a superb second-half display from Stockport County, the three points moving them to the top of the table.
This wasn’t late frustration or a below-par team performance, as has annoyingly been the case too often for the Pilgrims this season. This was a team at the top of their game just flexing their muscles, and throwing in a couple of exceptional goals for good measure.
Craig Elliott tipped the Hatters for the title but promised Boston wouldn’t do them any favours. They didn’t. They put in the kind of performance they have lacked at times this campaign.
But the truth is that in-form County were just better.
Darren Stephenson, Elliott Osborne and Frank Mulhern scored the vital goals while Pilgrim Ben Davies responded from the spot.
Elliott made four changes to the side which drew with Telford, Ben Middleton making his first start in 16 weeks while Nicky Walker and Max Wright returned to the flanks.
There was also a debut for striker Jake Wright, on loan from York City.
Brad Abbott, Spencer Harris, Jonathan Wafula and Jay Rollins dropped to the bench where they joined Jonny Margetts, back from his spell with Matlock Town.
County keeper Ben Hinchcliffe warmed his gloves early on, making sure Jake Wright’s long ranger didn’t catch him out and comfortably claiming Walker’s second attempt after the winger’s initial free kick struck the wall.
But it was at the end of the first half where the stopper really showed his worth, getting down to tip away Ryan Qualter’s downward header just seconds after Gavin Allott had powered an effort over the bar from close range.
The opening 45 minutes was fast-paced, end-to-end football, played on the damp, skidding surface to the soundtrack of a raucous, up-for-it crowd.
The Hatters, still with a gear still to move up to, played neat passing triangles around Boston’s 18 yard box, Matt Warburton’s angled drive their best chance of the half, fizzing beyond George Willis’s far post.
It took a moment of clever improvisation to open the scoring, Stephenson dropping to the back post and meeting a powerful cross from the right with a spinning reverse volley to wrong-foot Willis in the 53rd minute.
United should have levelled when Walker met Qualter’s header by the back post, but his effort on the spin flew high into the roof of the Town End.
Super sub Osborne doubled the advantage in the 66th minute, just seconds after replacing Warburton.
With Willis grounded after blocking an initial effort Osborne made no mistake, smashing home from close range before disappearing into the celebrating travelling fans.
United were handed a way back into the game when Davies converted a 77th-minute penalty, drilled down the middle after Andi Thanoj’s flick struck the arm of Jordan Keane.
But the two-goal cushion was restored four minutes later with another touch of class, Mulhern completing a swift greak by selling his man a cute dummy and curling beyond Willis.
Boston battled, for long periods they held their own and matches the table toppers. But come the final whistle County had found that something extra to claim the points.
The touch of champions?
UNITED: Willis, Davies, Jackson, Thanoj, Middleton, Qualter, M. Wright (Rollins 83), Wroe (Abbott 86), Allott, J. Wright (Margetts 83), Walker; Subs (not used): Harris, Wafula
COUNTY: Hinchliffe, Cowan, Duxbury, Keane, Palmer (Walker 53), Stott, Thomas, Turnbull, Mulhern, Warburton (Osborne 65), Stephenson (Kirby 86); Subs (not used): Minihan, Ormson.
REF: Amy Fearne.
ATT: 1,073 (263).
STAR MAN: Ben Middleton - an assured presence at the back.