Hykeham Town 3
Skegness Town 2
When you’re playing a team that, like you, has finished in the top two for the last three seasons, you really need to be at full strength.
The Lilywhites weren’t on Saturday and that proved fatal.
Injuries left the seasiders without skipper Ben Davison and Arron Scutt, while first choice keeper Travis Portas had other commitments.
The defeat saw the Lilywhites slip from the top perch, despite new leaders Grimsby Borough Reserves also going down at Market Rasen Town.
That was due to the three points awarded by the league to Borough when Harrowby United’s second string failed to show at the end of August.
Top of the table status for the Lilywhites can be restored if they beat Immingham Town at the Vertigo Stadium on Wednesday.
But what Saturday’s defeat at Hykeham served to illustrate was that they still have a lot to prove if they are to retain the title they secured in May.
They may have enjoyed far more possession against the 2015 treble winners, but in truth they were outmuscled by a stronger Hykeham outfit.
The home side enjoyed the benefit of a stiff breeze during the first half and posed a threat from free kicks launched into the Skegness penalty area.
Hykeham keeper James Cooper was also a source of long ball distribution with the wind on his back.
But the seasiders weathered the storm and threatened Cooper’s goal with a couple of Will Britton efforts.
The game was played at a frantic pace, but the final pass lacked quality at both ends.
In the 25th minute Hykeham broke the deadlock when a cross from their left, whipped in by the right boot of Chris Funnell, deceived everyone and found the back of the net via the far post.
Funnell deserves credit for the pace and direction of the ball into the box, which was always going to be difficult to defend.
In response the seasiders huffed and puffed, but it was not until deep into stoppage time at the end of the first half that they drew level.
Courtney Warren steered home the equaliser after the home side had failed to clear Britton’s initial effort.
There was hardly time for Hykeham to re-start the contest before the half time whistle was blown by referee David Birkett, prompting protests from the home bench as he left the field.
Hykeham, no doubt, were concerned that the visitors would now have the impetus going into the second half with such a late equaliser and the elements on their side.
But the scrappy nature of the game continued after the break. Play was littered by a string of petty fouls and histrionics that kept Mr Birkett on his toes.
He was at the centre of the action 10 minutes into the second period when he adjudged a Skegness defender to have pushed an opponent.
Funnell stepped up, but blasted the penalty kick over the Skegness bar.
Buoyed by this good fortune, the seasiders started to get on top, but they were hit by a sucker punch at the other end, with Callum Chapman stooping to meet a cross from the right.
His header looped over keeper Danny Kaye and into the net, much to the delight of the home camp.
Skegness still had half an hour to get back on level terms, but they left it very late.
Indeed there was just four minutes of normal time left when Andy Parish rose at the far post to head home the equaliser.
The delight was plain to see on the faces of the seasiders as they celebrated the lifeline.
But 90 seconds later it was dramatically wiped out by the winning goal.
A free kick conceded on the Skegness left was crossed into the danger area and home players were quickest to react.
Twice they smacked the ball against the frame of the goal before Tom Cass forced home the rebound.
There was still time for Skegness to steer the ball into Hykeham’s net, with Alex Nicholls heading home, but Mr Birkett ruled out the ‘goal’ for a push on the keeper.
TOWN: Kaye, Warren, Epton, Stevens, Chamberlain, Parish, Rayner-Mistry, Hobbins, Britton, Cunliffe, Parker, Clarke, Nicholls, Elliott.
On Wednesday Skegness host Immingham Town in the league, which is a rehearsal for their Challenge Cup tie scheduled for November 5.
On Saturday the Lilywhites travel to CGB Humbertherm for a 3pm kick-off.