UTTOXETER Town maintained their unbeaten start to the season but will be ruing two defensive lapses that saw them return from Saturday’s trip to Manchester Metropolitan University with just the one point instead of three.
With Hilton Harriers in cup action at the weekend, Mark Grimley’s men had an opportunity to move to the top of Staffordshire County Senior League Division One.
To achieve this, they needed to continue their 100 per cent start to the campaign, but Town travelled to Alsager without four of the previous week’s starting line-up and skipper Martin Gadsby facing a late fitness test.
It was in attack that Town looked light as they travelled without the unavailable Lee Bagley, Tommy Smith and Jack Holley, in addition to injured centre-back Chris Richards.
With Gadsby declared fit, Kyle Esplin was pushed into attack alongside youngster Tom Harvey, with Ryan Metcalfe given his first start of the season in midfield.
The only other changes from the previous week saw Luke Ede recalled at the expense of Rob Collins, and Jon Lamburn and Steve Caswell replacing Richards and Holley down Town’s right side.
Both sides went into the match having won all of the previous games, so it promised to be an exciting encounter.
From the off, it looked as though MMU would rely heavily on their pace to open up the Town rearguard.
The first chance of note was created by the visitors, though, and it was debutant Lamburn who went close, the winger capitalising on a fumble by the goalkeeper at the back post before watching his volley fly agonisingly over the bar from a tight angle.
Then on 31 minutes came the opener and Town would have been bitterly disappointed with how it arrived.
A routine clearance was misjudged by the defence, allowing the MMU attacker time to bring the ball down and play in strike partner Festus Olubago, who managed to squeeze the ball over the line despite a terrific attempt by goalkeeper Alex Langridge to deny the striker.
The lead did not last long, however, as Town worked the ball superbly for an equaliser.
Nev Jenkins clipped the ball inside for Gadsby and when the midfielder neatly flicked the ball inside, Esplin was given sight of goal.
The frontman drove the ball hard towards the far corner and when the keeper parried, poacher Harvey was on hand to stab it home from four yards.
It was Harvey’s second goal in as many starts and it could have been three minutes later as he rose unchallenged at the far post but headed wide from a superb Lamburn delivery.
The half-time whistle brought an entertaining 45 minutes to an end, but one in which chances were at a premium.
The second half proved no different, with neither side creating many openings.
It was the introduction of Rob Collins that sparked Town into scoring their second goal, with the winger collecting the ball off Jason Beardsley and picking out Esplin superbly at the far post.
With little to aim at, though, Esplin hammered home a wonderful volley for the goal of the game and put Town in sight of another three points and top spot in the table.
However, it was not to be for the visitors and, in the same way as the opener, the equaliser was gifted to the university outfit.
A dubiously awarded corner was harmlessly swung in to the near post, with Lamburn well positioned to clear, but the midfielder left the ball for the onrushing Langridge to gather.
The mis-communication saw the ball ricochet of the Town stopper and in to the unguarded net with no MMU player anywhere near.
It was a horror show in the Uttoxeter defence, but Grimley’s men showed their mettle again and vainly went in search of a winner.
TOWN: Langridge, Caswell, Jenkins, Beardsley, Ward, Metcalfe, Gadsby, Esplin, Harvey (Crutchley 70), Lamburn (Middleton 84), Ede (Collins 70).
INFINITY IT MAN OF THE MATCH: Martin Gadsby.