There was more midweek disappointment for Melton Town with an agonising 4-3 defeat on penalties to Heather St John’s in the Senior County Cup final on Tuesday.
After the game had ended 1-1, Ryan Pace’s miss put Melton in command of the shootout at 2-1 up after confident penalties from Nathan Arnold and Jordan Lever.
But like his opponent, Callum Westwood then thumped the next spot-kick against the bar, and Lloyd levelled.
Josh Hill converted Town’s fourth, but Robbie Parsons then saw his final spot-kick saved, low to his right, by keeper Billy Spink, allowing Dean Rathbone to stroke home the winning penalty.
It is always a shame for a cup final to be settled by the lottery of penalties, and this was felt all the more keenly after a high quality tie.
After a cagey start, Melton seemed the first to settle, patiently working the ball with quick sharp passing, looking to open up gaps.
Jordan Lever was particularly involved down the right, but Melton’s final ball was missing against a well-drilled defensive line.
And suddenly Town were behind, as Heather struck almost from nowhere in the 20th minute.
A simple ball from midfield over the top sent the pacy Chris Lloyd clear to beat the advancing Rob Peet with an assured lob,
Town co-manager Tom Manship had accused his side of going missing after falling behind in the big league clash at Anstey seven days earlier, so how would they now respond?
They settled quickly back into their patient, probing build-up, with Levi Fray finding a rare bit of space in the box, but placing his shot over.
But for all their neat work, Melton struggled to carve out clear openings against a disciplined defence, and it was Heather who could have added to their lead.
Town continued to look vulnerable to the ball in behind their defence which found the lightning quick runs of Lloyd and their chief dangerman Simeon Cobourne who kept Town’s back four busy all night.
Punter stood tall, making a vital challenge to stop Lloyd going one-on-one once more, while there was another last-ditch block to deny Chris Cowley in the box.
The introduction of Tom Rigby at left-back on the half-hour seemed to steady the ship, but Town had another narrow escape just before half-time when Cobourne again burst into the box and was felled by Punter.
Referee Goddard initially pointed to the penalty spot, only to then seek out the linesman’s flag. Offside.
Robbie Parsons was introduced for the second half, and his pace had an immediate impact as Town started the second half firmly on the front foot,
Suddenly Melton began to find holes in the Heather rearguard, with Jay Lionel making a last-ditch challenge to stop Lever, while Reeve twice went close in quick succession.
Parson’s quick feet then worked just enough space to fire off a shot from the edge of the box which drew a decent save.
Still Melton remained patient, as Manship would have demanded, gradually cranking up the pressure as the Heather defence finally seemed to tire.
All of their good work was almost undone when a quick break involving Cobourne, Lloyd and Willis ended with Rigby turning a cross-cum-shot towards his own net, but he recovered to clear off the line.
And soon after, with 13 minutes left, Town bagged the equaliser they richly deserved.
Reeve had threatened twice more before he finally found the net.
Luke Edwards let the ball bounce, allowing Reeve a split-second to collect, outmuscle his two markers and fire a low shot which beat Spink for power.
Despite a final played at full pelt, Melton still looked sharp and full of running, but Heather had the final chance before full-time when a long ball dropped straight into the path of Willis, clear on goal, who clipped his half-volley over the bar.
A late winner would have been very harsh on Melton for their superior second half, but the worst fortune was yet to come as the tie headed straight for an ultimately doomed shootout.
Town: R. Peet (c), C. Westwood, Levi Fray (T. Rigby 30), C. Hibbitt, S. Wilson, B. Punter, C. Gilchrist (R. Parsons 45), J. Hill, M. Reeve, N. Arnold, J. Lever. Subs: Leon Fray, K. Price, K. Reek,