AN under-strength Crewe and Nantwich suffered a jolt in their promotion campaign on Saturday when chasers Sefton took maximum points.
Nick Price's third-placed side were hoping to keep the hosts at arm's-length, but the defeat has brought Sefton within four points of Crewe.
However, Price refused to criticise his side which had been badly hit by the unavailability and last-minute withdrawal of several first-choice players.
He said: 'I can't fault the commitment of the boys. We had to draft in second and third team players to plug the gaps and they put in a superb display.
'We only had six players that were in the original squad at the start of the season and that will always cause problems with consistency.'
Crewe and Nantwich forwards took the ball to their much larger opponents with aggression and had the lion's share of ball in the opening quarter.
The likes of Stuart Banks and Martin Pemberton maintained an impressive work rate, as did flankers Tim Cowap and Ray Doyle. The difference between the two sides at half-time was a solitary penalty for Sefton.
With the wind at their backs the Crewe players began to believe they could manage a shock victory. But a stray pass cost dear as the hosts made it 10-0 with a converted try.
Crewe hit back quickly when a high kick by Dan Lynch was fumbled under pressure from Cowap. Tom Maguire plundered an unconverted try after grabbing the loose ball.
But on 68 minutes Sefton grabbed another penalty, and as the visitors pushed forward, they added another try to make the game safe.
Crewe 2nds beat Moore 8-5 in a mudbath at the Vagrants Sports Ground, while the 3rds' game was called off due to a lack of players. The U11s beat Sandbach 5-0 thanks to an Eddie Spibey try. Crewe next entertain Ruskin Park on January 6.
Sandbach 60 Burntwood 8
DIVISION leaders Sandbach enjoyed a try-fest on Saturday at the expense of rock-bottom Burntwood.
The gap in quality between the two sides was cruelly exposed by the hosts at Brad-wall Road as Dan Massey (3), Tim Jones (2), Tim Oakes, Richard Murray, Ross Stitt and Nick Jerman all got on the scoresheet. The dependable Lee Pickles grabbed six conversions and a penalty.
The visitors lived to regret opening the scoring early on, when Craig Addy got down the blind side for an unconverted try.
That roused Sandbach and captain Oakes powered through to level on 20 minutes. Burntwood took the lead again with a penalty, before Pickles equalised at 8-8.
On the half-hour, Jones ran over the line and Pickles converted, and the floodgates opened. Massey soon got his first of the afternoon, while Stitt and Murray added more to make it 34-8 at the break.
Massey had completed his treble by the hour, while a chip-and-run try from Jerman on 65 minutes was impressive. Jones completed the scoring. Sandbach travel to Wednesbury on January 6.