KNUTSFORD were not at their best, but nor did they need to be to preserve a healthy eight-point lead at the top of the table.

Crewe, so close to beating Reds earlier in the season, did not provide the same stubborn opposition on Saturday at Manchester Road, shipping five goals.

Dean Warburton had already forced the visitors’ goalkeeper to make a stunning save before Lee Mannion opened the scoring, driving in from distance on 17 minutes.

Liam Myers and Oliver Jones were next to go close before Carlos Edmondson slotted in a cross from the latter to double the champions’ advantage.

Crewe halved their arrears when Josh Ruane punished a defensive mistake.

The visitors were brighter at the start of the second period too, although their resistance wilted when Michael Schofield scraped Warburton’s cross over the line on the hour.

When Crewe were reduced to 10 men, their hopes of an upset ended.

Substitute Sean Lynch added to Reds’ lead when he tapped in Schofield’s assist, then Myers scored the hosts’ fifth goal after turning his marker before applying a smart finish from close range.

Challengers Whaley Bridge proved too good for Middlewich Town, running out 2-0 victors, to make sure the distance to top spot did not become greater.

Like last time, Knutsford provide two players for the Cheshire League’s representative team – goalkeeper Mark Higgs and midfielder Dean Warburton – for the second leg of the North West Inter League Cup semi final against Lancashire & Cheshire League at Crewe tonight, Wednesday.

Knutsford Higgs (GK), Jones (Lewis), Jenyons, Smart, Williamson, Schofield, Mannion, Pickford, Mannion, Edmondson (Lynch), Myers (Shakoor).