FOOTBALL: Skipper strikes to keep Horncastle Town’s title hopes alive

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Skipper Chris Johnson grabbed a second half equaliser to earn Horncastle Town a 1-1 draw against Lincolnshire League title rivals Hykeham Town at a packed Wong last night (Tuesday).

More than 200 people watched an entertaining clash which was a terrific advert for local football.

However, Town will feel they missed out on a golden chance to take all three points after dominating long periods.

After conceding something of a ‘soft’ goal in the 11th minute, Town fought back with midfielders Olly Johnson and Richard Jackson key figures.

Leading scorer Michael Harness had a couple of chances and crashed another effort against the bar while big striker Mickey Stones was always a threat to Hykeham’s rugged defence.

The visitors were reduced to 10-men for the last 23 minutes after a red card but try as they did, Town could not turn their numerical advantage into goals.

They still sit at the top of the table - but only on goal difference.

Town are level on points with defending champions Skegness Town who won 2-0 at Louth United last night. Both sides have played the same number of games but Hykeham are only a point behind with two games in hand.

Crucially, Town still have to travel to Hykeham and the destination of the title could well go until the very last day of the season.

Town boss Paul Johnson said: “We can still win it. We’re disappointed we didn’t win last night because I felt we were the better side. We’ve just got to keep going - and keep believing.”

Town made a couple of changes with Tony Edwards sidelined by illness. Carl Smith came into a roving midfield role with Harness alongside Stones up front.

They made the brighter start but were rocked back when Hykeham struck from their first real threat.

A long free kick was floated into the box and leading scorer Ben Johnson was left unmarked to plant the perfect header over keeper Lewis Burchnall into the top right corner.

With Tom Sargeant a constant threat on the left, Town hit back strongly but could not find the finishing touch.

Sargeant had their best chance in the 30th minute when he was released by a great through ball from Jackson. He appeared to be pushed by a defender inside the box but stayed on his feet only to shoot straight at the keeper.

A minute before the break and the busy Harness went agonisingly close as his 30-yard piledriver beat the keeper but crashed against the bar.

The second half continued in a similar pattern with Town pressing and Hykeham occasionally looking dangerous from set-pieces. However, it’s hard to recall Burchnall having to make a decent save.

Full back Nathan Rawdon limped off in the 52nd minute after a late challenge that went unpunished and the officials were certainly kept busy as they tackles started to fly in thick and fast.

There was a let off for Hykeham on the 62nd minute when a hopeful punt into their penalty area led to a mix-up and Town really should have scored but Harness had his shot blocked and Smith’s follow up was hacked off the line.

Johnson, a commanding figure at centre half, showed his teammates how to finish ten minutes later. Sargeant’s scuffed free kick led to a scramble and Johnson latched onto the ball to sweep an angled drive into the net from ten yards.

It was all Town in the closing stages. Johnson had an easier chance to score but this time rifled a shot over the top.

Subs’ Scott Lowman and Gareth Melia saw shots saved, Stones glanced a header just wide but it was Hykeham who were more relieved to hear the final whistle after eight minutes of stoppage time.

They will feel the title is theirs to be won - or lost - but a spirited Town squad might well have other ideas.

Their bandwagon rolls on to Louth on Saturday. Three points area must.

Town: Burchnall; Rawdon (Lovett), Brown, C. Johnson, Shinn, Smith (Melia), Jackson (Lowman), O. Johnson, Sargeant; Harness, Stones.