RYMAN LEAGUE DIVISION ONE NORTH: Bury Town 2 Norwich United 3
Bury Town let three precious points in their play-off push slip through their fingers as a Christy Finch hat-trick for Norwich United wiped the smiles off home fans' faces this afternoon (January 28).
The Blues, who had gone into the match on the back of two away defeats - after a two-werk break following two podtponements -had looked on course to bounce back at Ram Meadow when Josh Mayhew's stunning volley had put them 2-1 up just after the interval.
But a couple of individual errors, from Tevan Allen and captain Bradley Barber, saw the Planters overturn the deficit in nine minutes and leave manager Ben Chenery without the present he had really wanted to mark his 40th birthday today.
They then held on in a late onslaught from the home side, despite being reduced to 10 men when Norwich captain Andrew Eastaugh was shown a second yellow card as four minutes of stoppage time was put up.
The result saw Bury drop one place to ninth and go from one point from the top five to four.
Prolific marksman Ollie Hughes and recent signing Leon Ottley-Gooch were both only fit enough for the bench, while Darcy De'ath's illness meant youngster Joe White partnered fellow teenager Kryan Clements in the heart of defence.
Mayhew's early acrobatic effort failed to trouble Norwich's goalkeeper Andrew Wilton before Finch put the 12th place visitors (four places and three points below Bury at kick-off) into the lead in the 12th minute.
There was a big suspicion of offside as Adam Hipperson's effort deflected perfectly into his path through a crowded box, following a Jamie Speller left-sided corner.
But with the officials later confirming Ryan Jolland was playing the striker on, Bury's protests were in vain as an appealing defence stood still ad Finch steadied himself before firing beyond Neil O'Sullivan.
Clements went close to an equaliser four minutes later with a header that dropped just over the crossbar and rolled down the back of the net.
Tevan Allen's thunderbolt from the edge of the area, following a corner, was deflected wide while the right-back was soon busy at the other end, making a crucial sliding block in the penalty box, denying Hipperson.
The next goalmouth action saw Bury deservedly get back on terms when Cusack was left with a simple far post finish 10 minutes from the break when Wilton could only parry Ryan Jolland's lofted effort into his path.
A chipped effort from Mayhew from outside the area almost fell the right side of the crossbar, from a home perspective, before the striker was denied from inside the box when Sam Watts got in the way of his powerful effort.
The half ended with Hipperson sending a free-kick fizzing not far wide of O'Sullivan's left-hand post.
Three minutes were not even completed in the second half before Bury took the lead with Mayhew's fantastic dipping volley from Luke Read's lofted pass beating Wilton, off his line, all ends up.
But the Blues, despite creating plenty more chances, lost the game as much at their own end as their opponent's.
After Tim Henery's dinked effort landed on the top of the bar, O'Sullivan was soon called into action to save at his near post from the same player.
In-between, Jolland's cross was just a few yards too far ahead of Read's run at the far post, though he did manage to stretch a leg out to it to put it wide.
Norwich substitute Nathan Stewart almost made an instant impact when he ran through on the right-hand side and rounded O'Sullivan before firing into the side-netting.
Down the other end Remi Garrett's shot from inside the area was blocked by the legs of Wilton, after the goalkeeper had punched away Barber's corner.
The equaliser came in the 70th minute when Allen was guilty of getting the wrong side of Fitch and the striker was able to have the time to bring down Speller's cross before dispatching past O'Sullivan.
With the game on a knife-edge the next goal was crucial to the outcome.
Stewart lacked composure as he shot straight at the Blues' number one from a promising break, before Noel Aitkens' effort at the other end was at a comfortable height for Wilton to hold.
But it was Finch who again showed the killer instinct to regain the lead for the Planters in the 79th minute.
Barber, looking to take on a second man in the midfield, was caught out as he was robbed of possession, and from the ensuing three-on-three Speller played in Finch whose lofted angled shot made it over the line, despite O'Sullivan coming off his line to get a hand to it.
Aitkens and Garrett were both denied an equaliser by the legs if Wilton, while the Norwich glovesman managed to react quickly to Garrett's curling cross-cum-shot after it dipped over Mayhew's head.
Andrew Eastaugh, brother of Planters' manager Steve Eastaugh, was given his marching orders for a second yellow card after a late challenge in his own half on Garrett in the 91st minute.
But despite three more minutes providing a frantic finale, including Hughes seeing an effort pushed away, Bury could not find the equaliser they possession had warranted.
Next up for Bury is a trip to relegation-threatend Waltham Abbey on Saturday (February 4).
Bury: O'Sullivan, Allen, Cusack, Aitkens, White, Clements, Garrett, Reed, Mayhew, Barber, Jolland (Hughes, 75). Unused subs: Debenham, Kennedy, Ottley-Gooch, Yallop.
Free Press Man of The Match: Josh Mayhew. His moment of quality for the second goal should have been enough to win the game.
* For a video interview with manager Ben Chenery on his take on the defeat, log on to this website from 1pm on Monday and get Friday's print edition for a full report as well as match stats and player ratings.