Melton Town welcomed back former players Tom Cooper, Levi Fray and Gavin Williamson for Saturday’s home game, but they couldn’t prevent a first defeat in 2017.
King’s late withdrawal through illness meant Williamson started in goal instead of defence, with Cooper in at centre-half and Fray on the bench for the visit of mid-table Long Buckby.
Melton started brightly with captain Adam Bishop, and midfield partners Jamie Baker and Ben Lapworth pulling the strings, but they couldn’t force a way through the visitors’ well-organised rearguard.
Buckby looked very threatening on the break through their pacey forwards, and on 22 minutes Town had a scare when the away side hit the post.
Melton lost their way midway through the first half as a few refereeing decisions went against them, but they composed themselves and finished strongly.
Cufflin-Stableford cut in from the left and fired over the bar, and there were shouts for a penalty on the stroke of half-time when the same player was impeded after bursting into the area.
Buckby made a couple of changes at half-time and this seemed to pay dividends as they started the second half the better team.
And 11 minutes in they opened the scoring when Melton gave away possession on the left and the ball was squared to Merry for a simple tap-in.
Town responded in fine fashion as they introduced Fray and Steve Truman into the match and the hosts drew level when John Love was brought down in the area.
Captain Adam Bishop scored from the penalty spot, placing his shot into the left corner with the keeper getting a hand to the ball.
The home side nearly took the lead straight from kick-off following Truman’s powerful run at goal.
He squared the ball to Bishop, but the keeper this time denied Melton’s skipper with a great save.
Buckby then restored their lead with 20 minutes left when Barby was allowed a free header from six yards to head past the helpless Williamson.
Town continued to press for an equaliser, but for all their endeavour, they couldn’t break down Buckby’s stubborn defence.
Melton remain in 11th and welcome back leading scorer Ash Palfreyman and Aaron Black from suspension for Saturday’s visit of bottom side Stewarts and Lloyds.
Tony Thorpe and Steve Hendy will have a full squad at their disposal as Melton look to finish the season in style and secure a top-eight finish.
Kick-off at Digital Deadline Park is 3pm.