In-form striker Ash Palfreyman’s late penalty earned improving Melton Town a richly deserved share of the spoils at second-placed Bugbrooke on Saturday.
Town fielded an unchanged line-up from their midweek win at Bourne, but were tested early on as Bugbrooke’s tall striker Obeng and wide man Richard-Noel looked dangerous.
Keeper Richard Cragg then had to save Liburd’s low drive from 20 yards before the same player fired high and wide in the next attack.
But Town hit back with Jordan Cufflin-Stableford looking dangerous with his surging runs at the home defence.
The visitors were playing composed football with Ben Lapworth and Jack Baker prompting good moves from midfield, and following an interchange of passes between Baker and Adam Bishop, the ball was laid out to teenage full-back Alex Horobin whose first-time cross found the unmarked Palfreyman who headed back across goal to John Love who looked a certain scorer, but the keeper somehow bundled the ball to safety.
Seconds later Town were unlucky when the woodwork came to Bugbrooke’s rescue, and Bishop then tested the keeper with a volley from outside the area.
Town took a deserved lead on the half-hour from another move down the right. Stableford-Cufflin beat his full-back and put in a perfect cross for Love to head past the keeper.
The home side responded with three corners, but the Town defence stayed resolute to half-time with Clayton and Slater making timely clearances.
Bugbrooke raised their tempo at the restart and Cragg was forced to save at the foot of the post following a shot from Obeng before substitute O’Connor jinked his way through before firing across the face of goal.
The hosts were level on the hour when a long cross from the right picked out Richard-Noel who cut inside Horobin and sent a curling drive beyond Cragg and into the corner of the net.
Stableford-Cufflin raced clear to chip the advancing keeper, but narrowly cleared the bar as Melton replied.
Richard-Noel was used more and more, and in the 70th minute he put Bugbrooke ahead, side-footing in from close range from Oldham’s cross.
Melton introduced Tom Byrne and the substitute nearly scored with his first touch, racing through on the right before unleashing a low drive which whistled by the post.
Stableford-Cufflin then repeated this feat by firing across goal from the opposite wing.
A series of mystifying decisions infuriated the Town players Love and Baker who found themselves yellow-carded, but with 12 minutes left, Town got a deserved equaliser when a corner was only partially cleared and when the ball was driven back, a defender blocked the ball with his arm.
Palfreyman gave the keeper no chance to take his tally to 10 goals in nine matches.
Both sides strived for a winner and Bugbrooke were nearly gifted the points when Obeng, looking yards offside, found himself free in the area, but Cragg made a diving save at his feet before Mann cleared.
Another midfield skirmish saw Baker and Beckley clash, resulting in a booking for both and a seemingly harsh decision meant a red card for Baker.
But 10-man Town comfortably saw out the game to earn a pleasing result from a pulsating performance.
Town: Cragg, Horobin, Clayton, Slater, Mann (c), Bishop, Baker, Lapworth, Love (Byrne), Palfreyman, Stableford-Cufflin, Smith, Calver.