MALDON AND TIPTREE showed their strength of character with a hugely impressive 4-0 demolition of fellow high-fliers Thurrock.
The Ryman League division north leaders have faced a couple of disappointments in recent weeks, first losing their proud unbeaten home record with a defeat against Bowers and Pitsea and then being pipped at title rivals BRIGHTLINGSEA REGENT last Saturday.
However, far from wobbling, they flexed their muscles with an excellent display against third-placed Thurrock at Park Drive.
It was a vital victory, especially with second-placed Brightlingsea winning 1-0 at Thamesmead Town.
It means Maldon still have a three-point lead at the summit, although they have played 35 games and Regent only 33.
AFC Hornchurch hopped up to third, replacing Thurrock, after running out 5-2 winners at Great Wakering Rovers.
Maldon netted once in the first half before adding three more after the break, with four different players on the score-sheet.
Rhys Henry put them in front before further goals from Kyle Hammond and Femi Akinwande.
Liam Nash then put the cherry on the cake to complete a hugely satisfying afternoon for Kevin Horlock’s side.
Brightlingsea remain three points behind but will have been delighted with a 1-0 victory at Thamesmead.
Russell Malton scored the only goal of the game, in the 67th minute.
It means James Webster’s men are still unbeaten this calendar year, having won eight and drawn two since last losing on Boxing Day.
It was also a second consecutive clean sheet, after last week’s victory against Maldon.
Saturday also proved a great day for in-form HEYBRIDGE SWIFTS, who made the long trip to Soham Town Rangers and won 2-0.
Jack Cawley put them in front just after the half-hour mark, before Adam Bolle gave Jody Brown’s men some breathing space at Julias Martin Lane.
Saturday’s win came hot on the heels of last weekend’s excellent 3-0 victory at home to Thamesmead, at Scraley Road.
And it means they have only lost one of their last seven games – perfect preparation for Monday’s rearranged Essex Senior Cup semi-final at Chelmsford City.
Heybridge stay 17th in the table but have put more distance between themselves and the sides below, with the bottom five all losing.
WITHAM TOWN suffered late heartache in a 2-1 defeat at Romford.
Chris Taylor put the hosts ahead just before half-time but Lewis Payne made it all-square after 56 minutes.
However, Taylor popped up with a winner seven minutes from time.
It was a rare defeat for Witham, who had only lost one of their previous five and drawn three out of four before Saturday.
None of the Essex sides play again in the league until next Saturday, when it’s Ware v Maldon, Brightlingsea v Aveley, Swifts v VCD Athletic and Witham v Haringey Borough.