Skegness Town 3
Lincoln Moorlands Railway 1
Skegness Town maintained their position at the top of the Lincolnshire League with a disciplined performance against a strong Lincoln Moorlands Railway outfit.
But the champions had to come back from behind to secure the spoils.
With the added bonus of both Sleaford sides, Sports Amateurs and Town Reserves, doing the Lilywhites’ a favour by beating their title rivals, this was a big day for them in terms of retaining their crown.
But they had to start without the experience of Ben Davison and Miles Chamberlain in the side.
It would be wrong to describe this as a two-man team, but the seasiders do seem to miss the leadership qualities of this pair.
Luke Rayner-Mistry was also missing due to injury.
Without the trio they started quietly. This perhaps had as much to do with the urgency shown by their opponents. The Railmen, after escaping an early scare when Alex Nichols fired wide with just the keeper, Matt Burkes, to beat, dominated possession.
And when they didn’t have the ball they worked hard to press the champions high up the field, forcing them into a number of errors.
The Railmen taking the lead in the 12th minute was hardly a surprise. Town struggled to clear a corner from the left and when it fell to Jake Stokes on the edge of the area he found the top corner with a fierce drive that gave home keeper Travis Portas no chance.
Having got their noses in front, Railway showed they were in no mood to let go of the advantage and there were some feisty challenges from both sides.
Referee Ian Weston lectured at length Town’s Jamie Epton and the Lincoln side’s Craig Hiatt and Lee Burke as the temperature increased. He eventually lost patience with Hiatt and cautioned him after he tangled with Courtney Warren.
A great run by Josh Clarke resulted in a cross that evaded everyone in the crowded goal area.
At the other end Simon Ward made himself available and protected the ball well for the Lincoln side, bringing team mates Chris Nuttall and Luke Shipman into the game at every opportunity.
Shipman’s fierce shot midway through the first half brought out the best in Portas, while Nuttall hit the frame of the Skegness goal direct from a corner.
Some deep searching crosses into the home penalty area had Skegness defenders on their heels.
But the hard work the Railmen were putting into restraining the leaders was beginning to take its toll and gradually the seasiders got their swift passing game together.
When the one touch passing is at its best, defences are at their most vulnerable and you sensed that the visitors were looking forward to catching their breath at half time.
Before then they conceded the equaliser, an individual goal conjured up out of nothing by McCauley Parker, who danced his way past a queue of Moorlands defenders before slotting the ball home from 10 yards in the 40th minute.
So the game was evenly poised going into the second half, but within seconds of the restart Alex Nichols had given the Lilywhites the lead with his 11th goal of the season in all competitions.
Moorlands suffered a further blow early in the second half when the influential Hiatt had to retire after receiving a head injury.
They did continue to press for an equaliser, but they were stopped in their tracks by the persistent Will Britton, who chased down a lost cause, dispossessed Stokes deep in the Lincoln defensive third and smashed the ball past Burkes from an acute angle.
It was a cruel twist for the visitors, but to their credit they refused to let their heads drop. They forced the seasiders into some desperate defending.
Timely blocks by Epton, Arron Scutt, Andy Parish and Daniel Stevens kept them at bay, as did some late athletic saves by Portas.
TOWN: Portas, Warren, Epton, Scutt, Parish, Stevens, Clarke, Cunliffe, Britton, Nichols, Parker, Howitt.
On Saturday Skegness entertain Immingham Town at the Vertigo Stadium in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup (KO 2.30pm).