Melton Mowbray snatch crucial win at Houghton Rangers

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Steff Stapleton’s late winner kept alive Melton’s title hopes with a hard-fought win at in-form Houghton on Saturday.

Mowbray faced a team which had held title rivals Sileby and Blaby to draws in recent weeks and had lost just once in nine games. They travelled without skipper Tom Cooper, Aaron Black and Ben Stainsby.

Melton started the game at a great tempo on a terrible muddy pitch and should have taken the lead after five minutes. Aiden Black played in Hazeldine, but with only the keeper to beat the striker hesitated in getting his shot away and the keeper made a comfortable save.

Melton continued to press and Kieran Clayton shot narrowly over from distance, but the pitch began to play its part in the game as both teams struggled to move the ball.

Ash Palfreyman and Leon Fray looked solid in defence against a lively Houghton front pair, but the rest of the half was a midfield battle with limited action in either goalmouth.

Houghton started the second half at a terrific pace and Melton were all over the place with no shape or structure.

The hosts opened the scoring when Matt Baird outpaced Melton’s defence and lifted a shot over Cragg.

Melton immediately made changes, bringing off Love and Hazeldine for Stapleton and Bishop and this introduction seemed to spark the visitors into a response.

Mowbray were given a way back into the game when Levi Fray was fouled in the box as he attempted to head in from a corner. Black sent the keeper the wrong way with the resultign penalty.

Melton then went in front when Adam Bishop followed up captain Lee Mann’s shot, which was saved, to head home.

The away side were unlucky not to receive another penalty when Jack Baker was fouled in the area.

But with six minutes left Houghton drew level when James Ireland’s free-kick, 25 yards from goal, took an unkind deflection off the wall and looped over Cragg’s head.

Melton didn’t give in and with only minutes left to play, man-of-the-match Ash Palfreyman played an excellent ball over the top of the defence. Stapleton raced forwards to outjump the keeper and loft the ball into the net for a crucial winner.

Man-of-the-Match, sponsored by Kings Head, was Ash Palfreyman.

Mowbray: R. Cragg, Levi Fray, J. Love (A. Bishop), A. Palfreyman, Leon Fray, L. Mann (c), K. Clayton, G. Williamson, J. Baker (Gerrathy), D. Hazeldine (S. Stapleton), Aiden Black.