WINSFORD United were better than the score-line suggests but they were given a lesson in finishing by clinical Northwich Victoria.

And that proved the difference.

A blistering start set the tone, and Blues’ goalkeeper Michael Langley was called into action by John Connolly in the opening minute before Danny Taberner stretched fully to divert Sam Marshall’s drive at the other end.

The visitors to Wincham Park thought they had opened the scoring when Marshall pinched possession from Taberner when a back-pass fell short, steering the ball into an unguarded net.

However one of the referee’s assistants claimed to have spotted a foul on Vics’ custodian.

Kieron Kenny jabbed wide from Rob Doran’s free-kick before Steve Wilkes’ men, buoyed by an FA Cup replay success against higher-ranked Widnes in midweek, took the lead on 28 minutes.

Joel Brownhill turned in a ball diverted into his path by a defender who had blocked Billy Whittle’s initial effort.

Winsford rallied, and both Peter Watling and Perry Bircumshaw were thwarted by an opponent’s intervention before Marshall’s follow-up was too close to Taberner.

Vics doubled their advantage early in the second-half when Connolly picked out Brownhill and he did the rest.

Stung, Blues replied when Bircumshaw met Marshall’s deep cross from right to left with a smart sliding volley.

Winsford boss Lee Duckworth then sent on Dave Short and Liam Collins in search of a leveller, but a change in formation didn’t bring the desired result.

Instead Vics put the game out of their neighbours’ reach when Kenny planted a shot into the bottom corner after substitute Stuart McDonald combined with Whittle in the area.

McDonald was involved in the home team’s fourth goal, sending fellow replacement Liam Bickett into space.

He picked out Rory Gorman, who duly tapped in.

A margin of victory might have been wider had Langley not blocked Whittle’s close-range effort with a boot before Brownhill fired against the crossbar with the goal at his mercy.

Vics | Taberner (GK), Camozzi, Ayres, Kenny, Barski, Whittle, Craig (Bickett 46), Cooke, Brownhill, Doran (McDonald  65), Connolly (Gorman 77) Sub not used Neild (GK) Goals Brownhill 28, 47, Kenny 79, Gorman 86 Booked Brownhill, Doran

Blues | Langley (GK), Jones (Short 70), Lee Duckworth (Hopper 74), Kerr, Jenyons, Foster, Marshall, Howell, Watling, Koral, Bircumshaw (Collins 67) Subs not used Cook, Woolley Goal Bircumshaw 54 Booked Jenyons

Referee Bradley Hall

Attendance 204