NEAREST challengers Auchinleck Talbot’s involvement in the Ardagh Group West of Scotland Cup provided an opportunity for Hurlford United to extend their lead at the top of the Premiership to 10 points on Saturday.

That they duly delivered with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Renfrew was thanks in no small way to an absolute howler by normally dependable Frew goalkeeper Dale Burgess just quarter of an hour into the Blair Park encounter.

It would be difficult to find an excuse for why he advanced off his line to a ball played back to him and instead of hoofing it upfield opted for a short pass to Greg Wylie while the full-back had opponent Lewis Morrison breathing down his neck and the Ford forward’s immediate press forced an error resulting in the ball squirming clear and into the path of Marc McKenzie who made the most of the break by despatching a low, 20-yard shot into the net for 1-0.

Burgess went on to atone for his bloomer nearing half-time with a wonderful diving save to keep out a netbound Liam Caddis shot that would have doubled the home team’s advantage, but all his self-reproach could not undo the damage that had been done.

Frew boss Colin Clark said afterwards: "Dale’s a terrific goalkeeper but he’s made a horror mistake today that has killed us and what is most galling is I’ve warned the players beforehand to be wary of the bobbly surface and keep things simple by not asking a team-mate to do something you should be doing yourself.

“Dale has passed the buck when the likes of big Andy Leishman would have shelled the ball upfield and it’s so frustrating because that one goal has been the difference between the teams out there today.”

Several among the visiting support felt referee Paul Timmons should have given offside against goalscorer McKenzie but Clarky felt his team got off lightly with the goal award.

He admitted: "It looked off from where I was standing but if the ball doesn’t break to the Hurlford player to score then the referee has no option other than to red card Dale as he has wrapped his arms around the lad Morrison and brought him crashing to the ground.

“I’ll gladly take going 1-0 down with most of the game to play to being reduced to 10 men at such an early stage and the decision might well have worked in our favour but unfortunately the Hurlford goalkeeper has made a brilliant save to keep out the wonderfully struck Craig Dallas free kick that would have got us back on level pegging.”

Two strong and dominant defences ensured there was little in the way of goalmouth action during a second period where Hurlford dominated territorially but without ever looking like they could add to their 1-0 lead and the only talking points were a rash of yellow cards dished out by whistler Timmins.

His side’s lacklustre performance was touched on by gaffer Darren Henderson when he emerged from the home dressing room.

“The fiery pitch didn’t lend itself to any real passing fluency but that doesn’t excuse our lack of quality and our use of the ball in the final third.

“Squib has netted an early opportunist goal but we haven’t been able to add a second and the guys have got a bit nervy and sat deeper as a consequence. That has allowed a Renfrew side battling for their Premiership lives to come at us and it’s taken a great Murchie save from a free-kick to protect our advantage.

“It’s hard to be critical because exactly two weeks ago our spirits were at their lowest ebb after losing to Largs Thistle in the Scottish Cup but here we are now having taken 12 points from 12 and racked up three clean sheets in the process to re-ignite the title race.

“Next up is Petershill away on Wednesday night and winning there sets up a massive head-to-head down at Auchinleck next weekend but we will still have three games left to play afterwards so nothing will be won or lost at Beechwood – unless Talbot win of course.”

In the only other Premiership contest played, Pollok ran out 2-1 winners away to Clydebank to leapfrog both Glenafton and Irvine Meadow and take up third top spot in the standings.

A close-range Stefan McLuskey goal for the visitors was cancelled out by a Ross Alexander solo effort for the Bankies whose hopes of taking something from the game were dashed by Shaun Fraser bagging a late Lok counter.

In the Ardagh West Cup games, Graham Wilson (2), Jack McDowall, Keir Sampson, David Waite and Gordon Pope (pen) were on target as Auchinleck crushed Carluke Rovers 6-0 and an equally emphatic victory was also racked up by Beith for whom Peter Haggarty (2) and Joe Bradley netted in a 3-0 beating of Troon Juniors.

Glenafton secured their semi-final place with a 2-1 defeat of Cambuslang Rangers thanks to a brace of goals from Findlay Frye (one from the penalty spot) either side of a Craig McLeish score for the Lang.