Middlewich Town 1, Barnton 0: NEARLY 200 spectators turned out at Seddon Street on Saturday and saw the Mid Cheshire League title race opened up.
A Lee Duckworth goal on the follow-up, after Richie Mottram made a save in the 25th minute, separated the sides and it gives the Cheshire Amateur Cup clash between the two at Townfield Lane this Saturday an even sharper edge.
Matthew Hitchen had already had the ball in the Barnton net, but the goal was chalked off for handball, though there seemed little intent.
Mid -dlewich were the better side during the opening spell, but Barnton gathered their passing game together and dominated possession for much of the game from then on.
Full-back Majic Starchevski and midfielder Steve Davies urged on the champions, but though they created openings and earned free kicks in dangerous positions, they did not stretch Paul Simpson, Middlewich's 18-year-old stopper who happens to live at Barnton.
Simpson was the busier of the two keepers but Mottram had to make more saves, denying Rob Hopley twice and Adam Morris.
Middlewich proved the stronger side of the two, Barnton played the better football.
Barnton's Dave Murray accidentally collided with the referee 20 minutes into the second period, knocking out the official who quickly came round but could not carry on, and a volunteer linesman was found among the crowd.
Saturday's quarter-final tie has a 2pm kick-off.
Elsewhere in the MCL, Lostock Gralam moved out of the bottom two in the Second Division after beating Witton Albion Reserves 3-1 at the Slow & Easy. Saturday: Two - Winsford Res v Lostock, Witton Res v Whit-church; Reserves Division - Garswood v Middlewich.