For Kevin Wilkin’s side, this victory in the ‘Battle of the Bucks’ carried much significance.
Although Wilkin has only been the manager for 96 of those days, he acknowledged that claiming three points would help to get a monkey off his team’s collective backs. It helped to close the gap a little on those teams above them and also provided the club’s supporters with a reason to smile, both hugely important factors, and should give his improving team the evidence that their manager’s methods are paying off.
Second-half goals from on-loan duo Josh O’Brien and Lewis Salmon, on debut, brought a hard-earned but thoroughly deserved victory against a Buxton side who are sliding towards the relegation zone themselves.
Wilkin made three team changes, fit-again duo Robbie Evans and Byron Moore restored to the starting XI and with Salmon, on loan from Nottingham Forest for the rest of this season, playing in place of the suspended Montel Gibson.
Buxton's nickname is also the Bucks, and the two teams spent much of the first half locking antlers in a cagey contest, although Wilkin’s side looked the more purposeful and organised of the two.
The Peak District side plays on an artificial 3G surface, but that appeared to be of little advantage as Telford settled comfortably on the ‘carpet’. Home keeper Theo Richardson was the busier, as the away side, punching clear from a dangerous free-kick and then right behind a Brendon Daniels dead-ball strike over his defensive wall after a foul on Robbie Evans within range of goal.
Another Daniels free-kick just before the half-hour was kept alive by Evans and then Salmon, before Byron Moore, playing in a more advanced role in support of Salmon, curled a right-footed effort just wide of the far post from the left side of the penalty area.
Prince Ekpolo won a corner that was delivered right through the six-yard box with no one getting a touch, but then in the 33rd minute, it was Telford’s keeper, Joe Young, who kept the scores level. Diego De Girolamo, who enjoys cult status at Buxton, brought a fine save from the on-loan Wolves stopper, turning his effort from the edge of the 18-yard box over the crossbar for a corner.
It was the hosts’ best effort of the half, and soon after the Bucks dropped back into their groove. Harry Flowers directed a header from a corner over the bar when he should have at least worked Richardson, whilst Young held a similar Shaun Brisley effort at the opposite end.
The feeling that the game was there to be won by Wilkin’s side strengthened in the early stages of the second half. Buxton made a half-time change, introducing Sam Osborne for Jordan Windass, and Osborne may not even have touched the ball before he fouled O’Brien and earned the game’s first yellow card.
The Bucks were out of the blocks more quickly than their hosts and gathered momentum; Daniels flashed an effort high and wide when the ball was cleared to him on the edge of the box from a promising attack, and then Ekpolo burst through to drag a shot low towards Richardson’s bottom, right-hand corner, only to see the home custodian get down smartly to save.
From the resulting corner, neither Flowers nor central defensive partner Liam Nolan could get sufficient power onto headers towards the target, and Nolan’s effort, blocked on the line, was hurried to safety before a teammate could pounce.
Daniels went close with another 20-yard free-kick, his effort up and over the defensive wall not dipping quickly enough to find the top-right corner of the goal, but the belief was growing.
Buxton manager Craig Elliott responded with a double substitution before even an hour had passed, but they didn’t have any impact. Bucks left-back Adam Livingstone, building on his fine home debut a week earlier, fired a cross-shot towards Richardson that Salmon couldn’t get a touch onto, and then O’Brien advanced into space on the right to fire a shot wide.
With no more substitutes available, Elliott saw De Girolamo hop to the touchline for treatment on what looked to be a hamstring issue, and his subsequent lack of mobility literally hamstrung his side. They had a half-chance when Osborne recovered a cross and his return delivery onto the head of Connor Kirby was wastefully put over the crossbar.
The home side paid for that miss in the 73rd minute, when the away side took a deserved lead, and it came from an unlikely source, as O’Brien, joining an attack, found space and was picked out by Daniels’ cross from the right, steering a looping header over Richardson from 12 yards.
In each of their last two matches the Bucks had led but had been unable to see the game out; would it be third time lucky?
They were helped by the home side, whose anxiety and a sudden realisation that they needed more urgency saw them become panicky. Keeper Richardson barely got a touch on his intended kick and presented Salmon with a chance, although his blushes were spared by a defender making a last-gasp challenge as Salmon was about to find the empty net.
Daniels fired wide again after Ekpolo retrieved a free-kick, his last action before being replaced by substitute Kai Williams. The fleet-footed Williams was the perfect outlet, his pace meaning Buxton couldn’t throw caution to the wind, and he almost played Salmon through but located him in an offside position.
As the game entered four minutes of added time, Williams raced clear again, only to be denied by Richardson, palming the ball over for a corner; however, in the fourth additional minute, Salmon sealed the points with a debut goal.
Lindon Meikle coughed up possession in the centre circle and Ekpolo sprang clear, drawing a defender before slipping the ball to Salmon on his left. Richardson blocked his initial effort but the ball ran loose and Salmon’s stab towards the net found the target, sparking delirium amongst the faithful away support.
If Wilkin’s side can now build on this long-awaited result with a home win on Tuesday against Kettering Town, then what has, to some, looked impossible, might instead just be improbable, and that has to be seen as progress.
Telford: Young, Livingstone, O’Brien, Evans, Flowers, Nolan, Rowe, Ekpolo, Moore, Salmon, Daniels (Williams 84).
Subs not used: Bood, Green, Chong, Blissett.
Scorer(s): O’Brien (73), Salmon (90+4).
Buxton FC: Richardson, Poole, Brisley, Granite, Ackroyd (Elliott 57), Moult, Meikle, Simms (Boden 57), Kirby, Windass (Osborne HT), De Girolamo.
Subs not used: Bunn, Dawson.
Referee: Andy Sykes
Assistants: Rob Rees, Ryan Aldred.