HARRIERS lost vital ground on the National League North title race as they were beaten 1-0 at resurgent relegation battlers Stalybridge Celtic.

After a tense first hour, Stalybridge took the lead through a Danny Pilkington free-kick and, ultimately, Harriers weren’t able to cover despite a late rally.

There was little let up for Harriers on the injury front before this one – missing trio Liam Truslove, Arthur Gnahoua and Elton Ngwatala all found themselves in the treatment room with Ashley Carter also still suspended.

There was room for John Eustace to make one change to his line-up, though; nippy wide man Sam Austin was brought into the eleven in place of Tyrell Waite, who slipped to the bench.

That almost proved to be an inspired move as, within three minutes, Austin’s timely run and quick feet caused the hosts all sorts of problems, the former Burton man getting in a cross that Dan Nti very nearly turned past goalkeeper Grant Shenton.

Harriers made all of the early running and, before the break, both central defenders Keith Lowe and Jordan Tunnicliffe had jumped well at deliveries into the area before crashing them over the bar.

In between, Nti again went close for the visitors with a close range attempt that Shenton watched over, before the custodian was down well to deal with a Ryan Croasdale shot.

Just before the break Adam Mather crashed a screamer of an effort just wide of Sam Hornby’s target as a signal of intent for Stalybridge, something they’d carry forth into the second period when another deep delivery, this time from ex-Harrier Pilkington, bounce past everyone in red on its way into the net.

Harriers looked to dig deep for a response but weren’t able to trouble Shenton seriously, debutant Manny Sonupe having two opportunities late in the game as a low shot and a glancing header were handled calmly.

In the very final minute of four of additional time, Joe Ironside got what was virtually his first real chance of the night but he saw his powerful header turned away by a jubilant Shenton.

HARRIERS: Hornby, Hodgkiss (Ezewele 73), Francis-Angol, Lowe, Tunnicliffe, Croasdale, McQuilkin, Knights (Brown 52), Nti (Sonupe 68), Austin, Ironside.

Subs not used: Williams, Waite.

Attendance: 427 Referee: Paul Marsden