PRESTWICH Heys moved up to third in First Division North as a 75th-minute Mark Ayres goal saw them clinch a 2-1 victory over St Helens Town.

On a day when autumn truly arrived at Adie Moran Park, the centre-half rose superbly to head home from an Anthony Hall corner to decide a hard-fought encounter played on a heavy pitch amidst persistent rain.

Saturday’s win was Heys’ fourth in succession, a run that has seen progress in two competitions and a climb from mid-table into the promotion positions.

A season that has largely failed to spark now seems full of promise. It was a victory Heys had to dig out.

In the difficult conditions it was never going to be easy, but much credit should also go to St Helens. They sit third-bottom but the performance of their young, talented players saw Heys posed plenty of questions in a tense and entertaining encounter.

Heys were quick out of the traps and took the lead in the ninth minute as Jacob Holt showed he is developing a taste for goal. Seizing possession just inside the visitors’ half the left-back surged forward before rifling a low shot from the edge of the area into the bottom corner.

He was called into more regular duty midway through the half when a swift counter by St Helens ended with Jordan Jones bursting through the middle, Holt saving the day for Heys with a great cover tackle.

The sides exchanged openings with Prestwich’s Jacob Wood firing over and Gedaeo Varela stretching the Heys defence but pulling his shot wide.

Three of Heys’ recent acquisitions combined to great effect as Joe Rothwell’s sublime crossfield pass picked out Niall Sultan. He pulled back to Daniel Lambert but his shot from the edge of the area flew narrowly wide.

The game however was now a much more even affair and Saints twice tested Heys keeper Russell Saunders.

A nice move ended with the impressive Neil Weaver’s shot being held low before a low, angled shot from Moses Yoak forced the Heys stopper to drop low to save.

Having fought their way into the contest Saints almost undid all their hard work on the stroke of half time as a sliced clearance fell for Sultan whose shot brought a great full-stretch save from keeper Carl Williams.

St Helens carried their momentum into the second period, and they levelled in the 57th minute when the ball was smartly moved to Hal McHugh who struck a fierce low shot that appeared to take a slight deflection on its way into the bottom corner.

Nonetheless, it was nothing more than the visitors deserved for their endeavours after a difficult start to the game.

The question now was how would Heys respond? It was one they answered in impressive fashion.

Stepping up the pace, Sultan almost restored their lead with an in-swinging corner that Williams did well to claw away from under the bar.

Then, great work from Rio Wilson-Heyes ended with a low cross that was met by a deft back-heeled flick from Danny White, which was held at the foot of the post by Williams.

The pressure was maintained as Wilson-Heyes played in the overlapping Wood whose shot was pushed round the post.

That was to prove only a temporary reprieve for the visitors as, from the resulting corner, Ayres made the decisive header to make the score 2-1 and, although the visitors staged a spirited late rally, Heys had the resolve to see the game through.

The previous Wednesday evening Heys had come through another stern test as they travelled to Garstang with Holt again the hero with an 89th-minute winner in a 3-2 victory.

On a cold night at the Riverside Heys wasted no time pressing the home side from the kick off and took a fifth-minute lead.

As Niall Sultan ran into the box he was shoved from behind by the Garstang centre-half, with the referee having no hesitation in pointing to the spot.

Danny White converted the penalty with ease.

With an early goal behind them Heys played with a swagger and confidence that had been lacking in some games this season.

In the 13th minute, Brad Sixsmith beat the full-back and cut inside but his shot skimmed the top of the Garstang bar.

Heys increased the pressure with Wilson-Heyes and Danny White each denied by Garstang Keeper Will Kitchen. Another excellent save from the keeper prevented Max White from doubling the lead. But Kitchen was helpless to prevent Heys’ second goal.

Wilson-Heyes collected the ball on the edge of the box and rifled a fine shot into the bottom-right corner.

On 40 minutes, Heys again threatened down the left when a ball to the edge of the box found Holt, who cracked a fierce shot that just cleared the bar.

Garstang started to threaten in the closing moments of the half and deep into stoppage time they gave themselves a lifeline, Alan Coar stabbing home from close range as the ball skimmed across the face of goal.

That goal revived Garstang and they almost levelled early in the second half, Saunders making a save and a follow-up effort hacked off the line.

But the better chances were coming for the visitors with some great one-touch link-up play between Hall and Wilson-Heyes resulting in Wood shooting over the bar.

The final 20 minutes found both teams trying to get the upper hand but on 86 minutes Garstang drew level. Heys keeper Saunders pulled off a brilliant save from close range but the ball rebounded to Garstang’s Benjamin Roberts who could not miss at point-blank range.

Heys fans were contemplating two points dropped – or potentially worse – but this Prestwich side has a new guile and determination about them that has perhaps evaded them at times earlier in the season

And, just moments after the equaliser a corner from the left found Holt who made no mistake, smashing it home from 20 yards just inside Kitchen’s left-hand post.

There was previous little time left before the referee blew for full time, signalling an important three points for Heys’ promotion ambitions.