A drop goal from Gareth O’Brien four minutes from the end of an absorbing match enabled Salford to inflict a first defeat of the season on Castleford and knock them off the top of the table.
It was O’Brien’s golden-point drop goal that kept the Red Devils in Super League last October and the full-back produced another telling one-pointer to clinch a 13-12 victory at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Salford achieved their thrilling victory without the services of Australian half-back Todd Carney, who is still waiting to make his debut after being an unused substitute, with coach Ian Watson loathe to disrupt his half-backs with the game in the balance.
Castleford led for most of the match but injuries took a toll in the wet conditions and they failed to build on a 12-4 lead.
Daryl Powell’s men made the perfect start when Salford winger Greg Johnson was bamboozled by Luke Gale’s high kick that swirled in the wind and the England scrum-half followed up to touch down for a fifth-minute try.
Gale converted his own score but it quickly became apparent that the Tigers would be made to work much harder for any more spoils.
The Red Devils demonstrated a mean streak in defence and, with Robert Lui showing some nice touches with the ball, the visitors were forced to defend for long periods to keep their lead intact.
Having kept Widnes scoreless in their previous match, Castleford went another half-hour without conceding a point until pressure finally told when Lui got second-rower Ben Murdoch-Masila romping through a gap in their defence for the first of his two tries.
O’Brien was unable to add the conversion, though, and the Tigers thought they had increased their lead on the stroke of half-time when skipper Michael Shenton sent left winger Greg Eden over at the corner only for the try to be ruled out for a forward pass.
The visitors were not denied early in the second half, however, when Salford centre Junior Sa’u lost the ball in the tackle 40 metres from his own line and right winger Greg Minikin took Jake Webster’s pass to force his way over for his ninth try of the season despite the close attention of three defenders.
Gale knocked over the touchline conversion to make it 12-4 but Minikin was forced out of the action after being hurt in the act of scoring and Salford produced a strong response to keep themselves well in the game.
Full-back Zak Hardaker failed to deal with a high kick and in the next set Murdoch-Masila juggled with the ball before getting into his stride 15 metres out from the line and proved unstoppable as he tore over for his second try, which O’Brien converted.
Castleford were forced into a reshuffle after also losing Webster to injury, with Ben Roberts switched to full-back and Hardaker moving onto the wing, and it started to go wrong for them in the closing stages.
O’Brien levelled the scores with a 67th-minute penalty and, after Eden had come up with a fumble deep inside his own half, kept his nerve with another crucial drop goal.