DARVEL ominously stretched their leadership of the Championship to four points with a 2-0 victory over nearest challengers Cumbernauld United but it took Darren Miller conjuring up a sublime piece of individual skill to make the difference in a closely fought Guys Meadow encounter.

“Wonderfully executed” his manager Mick Kennedy called it while his Cumbernauld United counterpart Andy Frame lauded ” Darren’s the only guy in the Juniors capable of such a top-drawer finish “ when asked for his take on the midfielder’s 24th minute goal.

The home side had been enjoying the better of a fairly attritional first half and had come close to opening their account through Scott Thomson and Kieran McAleenan near things prior to a Chrissy Hall flick header evading goalkeeper Chris Truesdale’s reach only to come back off the upright.

The rebound saw the visitors spring forward and striker David Grant cleverly kept possession before firing a crossfield pass to Miller, fully 22 yards out and standing a matter of yards in from the right-side touchline , from where he showed outstanding vision to unerringly chip the ball over United keeper Darren Hill who was a mere step beyond his six yard line at best.

Going 1-0 up saw the fired up Ayrshire cracks come close to controversially extending their advantage approaching the interval when Referee Ryan Oliver adjudged Hill to have picked up a passback from team mate Clark Thomson but only after the whistler somewhat theatrically ran around to consult with his two assistants ,standing 25 and 50 yards respectively further away from the incident than he was.

The second half was every bit as much a tight situation and Miller almost came up with another electric moment when he curled a 25 yard free kick against the face off the crossbar while a sweeping United move upfield brought Paddy McCabe to fire over a driven cross that a full stretch McAleenan diverted against the post .

Thomson then dragged a shot wide of target after a favourable bounce of the ball however any hopes of salvaging a share of the spoils were ended with the conceding of a truly calamitous second goal just short of the 80th minute mark.

That man Miller’s pressing brought about an untidy exchange of passes between United captain Ross McCabe and goalkeeper Hill that culminated in the big defender clipping the ball into his own net.

Home team heads understandably slumped and they were fortunate not to concede yet again as Darvel midfielder Gary Muir went clean through on goal but elected to try and score himself instead of squaring to the unmarked Grant and had his attempted lob-shot saved by Hill.

Darvel boss Kennedy did his best to play down the importance of his side’s triumph when speaking afterwards.

“ I spoke with my coaching staff beforehand and we agreed win . lose or draw not to get too high or too low but there’s no denying today marks a terrific win for us at the start of a crucial month which also brings a Macron Scottish Junior Cup last 16 tie.

“We’ve not been at our fluent best for much of this season, but big players are coming back now and you can see the difference they make.

“Going 2-0 up was fortunate to say the least but credit to Darren for forcing the error and all I can say about our first goal is that not many people would have tried to score but Darren’s an exceptionally gifted player who is always capable of something special..”

Cumbernauld gaffer Frame was not over-despondent in the slightest when asked for his summations.

He insisted, “We’ve dominated possession and if we had scored from the chances created in the first half before Darren’s exceptional goal then I really believe we could have gone on to win the game.

“As so often happens in games between top sides, scoring at the right time is massive and Darvel did that and they have gone on to limit our scoring opportunities but I reckoned we were on the verge of snatching an equaliser before their comic cuts second goal.

“I cannot bring myself to chastise Ross or Darren over it as they have played outstandingly well all season but yet again the timing of the goal has allowed Darvel to see the game out comfortably.

“Today’s game was a great advert for the Juniors and it gives me immense pride to think my players have matched up with a Darvel side ,often maligned for their big spending and ambitious approach but in my book deserving of all the praise going for raising the profile of this Division.”

Elsewhere in the Championship, Renfrew and Blantyre Vics kept up the chase and increased the pressure on Cumbernauld’s second top placing with resounding victories.

The Frew hammering Shotts Bon Accord 5-1 at New Western Park where the points were as good as in the bag at half time with the home side leading 3-0 though goals from Rikky McIntosh, Ross Gilmour and Paddy O’Keefe.

Top scorer Danny Burns pulling a goal back for the Lanarkshire outfit early into the second period stirred hopes of a fightback that were soon quelled by a scoring brace from Frew striker Davie McKenna, his second from a penalty kick award that saw Shotts goalkeeper Johnny Murdoch red carded.

An equally impressive Blantyre Vics consigned Arthurlie to a 3-1 defeat in front of their own supporters thanks to first half scores by Nadeem Zeb (2) and Con Boyle with the Barrhead side’s consolation coming deep into injury time.

The win helped John Gibson’s men move a point ahead of fellow challengers Neilston , 3-2 losers at the Brig o’ Lea to Petershill for whom Scott Anson (pen0 and Scott McManus (2) were on the mark while Steff Stirling and veteran Paul Doyle were on the Farmers Boys’ scoresheet.

A last minute Liam Crichton goal, direct from a corner kick, enabled Gartcairn to run out 1-0 winners over Craigmark in new manager Willie Kinniburgh’s first game in charge and Whitletts Vics boosted their hopes of a top half of the table spot with Thomas Donovan, Michael Reilly and Isaac Kerr finding the net for an emphatic 3-0 defeat of bottom markers Irvine Vics.

In the only other Championship contest, a late in the day Gary Campbell equaliser enabled relegation threatened Cambuslang Rangers to come away with a 1-1 draw against a St Rochs side that had led through a Ryan McManus penalty kick .