CHORLEY returned to the top of the league with a display full of the character which has served them so well in this remarkable National League North season.

The Magpies delivered a master-class in game-management, working tirelessly to disrupt the rhythm of a normally free-flowing County side who could have no complaints after being out-battled on a tense afternoon in front of a raucous Victory Park crowd of 3,597.

The 1,200-strong Hatters’ contingent were in full voice until noticeably silenced by Marcus Carver’s stunning strike on the hour, the second of two fine goals for Jamie Vermiglio’s title-chasers.

But the Chorley boss was in no mood for premature celebration despite his side returning to the top of the table with victory over their nearest rivals.

"It’s just another three points," Vermiglio said.

"We’ve two massive games coming up and a lot of work still to do.

"But we were back to our best. Well-organised and prepared to work harder than Stockport to get the win.

"We needed to be at the top of our game to nullify County’s strengths – and we were."

After a cautious opening, the Magpies found their stride and the excellent Courtney Meppen-Walter tested Ben Hinchcliffe with a header from a free-kick before Chorley grabbed the lead in the15th minute.

Captain Andy Teague bravely plunged into a crowd of players to meet a well-flighted corner with a booming header which gave Hinchcliffe no chance.

Stockport built threateningly several times but watchful defending ensured there was no end-product.

It was Chorley who created clearer openings, Josh Wilson and Alex Newby twice failing to make inviting shooting chances count.

County should have drawn level two minutes after the interval. Darren Stephenson burst through down the left and slipped a perfect pass across the goalmouth to star striker Matty Warburton but faced with an open net from three yards he unaccountably scooped his shot over the bar.

In the context of a tight match it was a shocking miss and Warburton held his head in his hands for some moments in embarrassment and disbelief.

But Chorley were soon looking the more likely and Hinchcliffe denied Carver with a reflex save with his legs moments after the striker had headed tamely wide from an inviting Alex Newby centre.

However, Carver was not be denied, prompting Victory Park to erupt on the hour.

Benefiting from a rebound, the striker strode clear down the left channel before leaving Hinchcliffe grasping thin air with a rocket of a cross-shot.

The Stockport fans’ earlier exuberance faded away after that, as their side’s efforts to salvage something from the game repeatedly came up against the rock-like Chorley defence which was at its uncompromising best.

In truth, keeper Matt Urwin had not had a serious save to make as the Magpies successfully ran down the clock to earn a fully deserved victory.

Chorley are now two points clear of their only title-rivals with two games to play but it’s far from over, as Vermiglio’s troops face a tricky test at fourth-placed Spennymoor on Easter Monday.

Chorley: Urwin, Challoner, Blakeman, Teague, Leather, Meppen-Walter, A. Newby, Cottrell, Carver (Tuton, 90+1), Wilson (Almond,85), E. Newby (O’Keefe,83). Subs not used: Jordan, Anson.