FOOTBALL: Hero Burchnall saves the day for Horncastle Town

HEADS UP: Horncastle Town striker Mickey Stones climbs above Ruston's defence to score with a powerful  header during  Saturday's clash at The Wong
HEADS UP: Horncastle Town striker Mickey Stones climbs above Ruston's defence to score with a powerful header during Saturday's clash at The Wong

Horncastle Town have boosted their challenge for the Sills and Betteridge Lincoln League title - but they were indebted to ‘keeper Lewis Burchnall.

Town battled to a 3-2 win against Ruston Sports at The Wong on Saturday to move back into second place in the title race.

However, it was far from a convincing performance from boss Paul Johnson’s side after their recent enforced lay-off.

Michael Harness’ 17th goal of the season - combined with efforts from Mickey Stones and Gareth Melia - eased Town into a 3-1 lead in the first half.

But Ruston fought back and could have snatched a draw in the dying stages, only to be denied by a brilliant save from Burchnall.

Burchnall has often had to take second billing behind Town’s free scoring forwards this season but he certainly showed his value against Ruston.

On a very heavy pitch, it was the visitors who settled quicker and gave an early indication of their intent when they created a good opportunity inside two minutes, but their winger fired wide.

They continued to dominate the opening period but Town worked their way into the game with Richard Jackson seeing a lot of the ball in midfield.

Town duly opened their account after 15 minutes. Scott Lowman did well to create space just outside the penalty area and although his low shot came back off the foot of the post, Harness reacted quickly to fire in the loose ball.

Town were not at their fluent best but with Gareth Melia and Tony Edwards looking threatening in wide areas, they began to dominate proceedings.

Stones lead the line well but when his attempted pass to Edwards was intercepted, Ruston capitalised to equalise in bizarre circumstances.

Burchnall was caught out by a long ball forward. Although a Ruston player’s shot appeared to be drifting wide, the covering Nathan Rawdon unluckily diverted the ball into his own net.

Town responded positively and Jackson fired over after good work from Edwards down the right.

Stones was then fouled 30-yards out. When Jackson floated a great ball into the box, Stones rose above his marker to head the ball firmly into the bottom corner of the net.

Town were looking threatening whenever they broke forward and just after the half hour, they added a third goal.

Rawdon and Edwards combined well down the right before Edwards drove to the byline and delivered a ball to the back post. Stones headed back to Melia just outside the penalty area. He stepped inside his marker before looking up and curling a shot beyond the ‘keeper for a fine individual goal.

Harness thought he’d added a fourth goal with a great strike into the top corner from 20-yards, but was adjudged offside.

Jackson fired just wide of the far post as Town continued to press and Harness went close again with a well struck shot.

In fairness to Ruston, they had enjoyed a lot of possession in the first half and were perhaps unfortunate to be two goals in arrears at the break.

However, they showed their resolve in the second half as they forced Town to defend for long periods.

Within two minutes of the restart they had reduced the deficit when Lowman was dispossessed just outside the area and the ball was fired low into the corner to give Burchnall no chance.

Town hit back. Melia was off target with one effort and Stones tested the ‘keeper after good work from Harness.

However, the remainder of the half was dominated by the visitors. Their wingers were causing Town a lot of problems and they got forward at every opportunity.

Town were forced to defend in numbers with Steve Brown and Chris Johnson working stoutly at the heart of the rearguard.

Excellent handling from Burchnall restricted the visitors to very few clear chances while Stones limped off and was replaced by youngster Ben Fidling.

Town were pinned back and had a let-off when Ruston found the back of the net but an offisde flag cut short their celebrations.

With time running out, Ruston threatened again and another shot had goal written all over it - until Burchnall got down superbly to save the day.

Town’s lack of action in recent weeks was evident as they lacked their usual sharpness and they will have to improve over the coming weeks.

Town: Burchnall, Rawdon (Lovett ), Shinn, Brown, C. Johnson, Lowman, Edwards, Jackson, Stones (Fidling), Harness, Melia. Unused sub: O. Johnson.