Whitby Town’s six-game unbeaten run was halted by a narrow loss at Grantham Town.
A late penalty from Danny Meadows condemned the Blues to a first defeat of 2016, and leaves them just one-point above the Evo-Stik Premier Division’s relegation places after 21st-placed Marine drew with Matlock.
The midweek postponement of Ashton’s trip to the Turnbull Ground afforded boss Chris Hardy the opportunity to field an unchanged 11from that which started the 1-0 win over second-placed Workington, the previous weekend.
The only switch for the visitors was on the bench as Jordan Jewson returned to Hartlepool United and fellow youth loan striker Tyler Scarth (17), from Accrington Stanley, took his spot.
By contrast, the hosts were coming off a run of six successive defeats but tested Shane Bland, on six minutes, when Lee Shaw’s 25-yard half-volley, out of nothing, forced the Blues stopper to back-pedal and tip over.
At the other end, Mikey Roberts struck a half-volley of his own, from an acute angle, across the face of goal and wide of keeper Jake Turner’s right-hand post. Soon after, Kieran Weledji’s powerful run from deep, set up overlapping right back Callum Martin to feed Matty Waters, who sidefooted over, first-time, from 12 yards.
Weledji then earned his stripes at the other end with a brave block at the feet of big frontman Ben Saunders, with 16 minutes gone.
Stefan Galinski, making his debut, on loan from Conference North outfit Alfreton, proved a revelation for the Gingerbreads. His near-post slide on Roberts was perfectly-timed, as Martin drove a cross in from the right, allowing Turner to claim.
Grantham then struggled to test Bland with two tame efforts before the break. First, Michael Emmott steered straight at Bland, from a 20-yard free-kick, after Lee Bullock took out Shaw on the edge of the D, then skipper Rhys Lewis’ speculative effort was clutched low to his left by the ex-Middlesbrough gloveman.
Three minutes after the re-start, Roberts turned goalwards, but Turner was able to push away to his left, with the ball at a good height, albeit too awkward to hold.
Both sides then came agonisingly close to grabbing the lead, before the hour. A tremendous run from Michael Hollingsworth ended with a 25-yard strike over Bland that came back off the top-right corner of the crossbar for Shaw to turn wide.
Then for Whitby, a terrific move saw Martin again causing problems down the right, this time feeding Dave McTiernan, who pulled back for the unmarked Roberts to clip over, from six yards.
Possibly buoyed by this, the Lincolnshire side started to turn up the pressure. First, Richard Pell was dispossessed inside his penalty area, by the lively Shaw, forcing Bullock to fly across and execute a desperate saving slide tackle.
The resulting corner saw successive efforts charged down by Blues defenders, but there was nothing they could do 15 minutes from time.
Saunders ran from deep, with more than one player diving in, amid wet conditions, it was Pell who was adjudged to have sent the number ten sprawling, just inside the box, and referee, Mr Karaivanov, quickly pointed to the penalty spot.
Meadows stepped up and clipped into the bottom-right corner to break the deadlock.
Grantham’s poor recent record was evident as nerves filled the South Kesteven Sports Stadium and the Blues almost broke home hearts, inside three minutes of injury time.
Martin cut in off the right and lobbed Turner, who back-tracked towards his back post and touched over, and with that chance, went Town’s hopes of snatching a point.