SPALDING UNITED 3 QUORN 2: Spalding were indebted to a ‘Night’ in shining armour on Saturday as they snatched a potentially massive UCL Premier Division victory.
Hero TJ Nightingale headed a last-gasp winner at the Sir Halley Stewart Playing Field, giving the Tulips’ hopes of mounting a genuine title bid a real shot in the arm.
Dan Cotton (2) and another Nightingale effort (57) had earlier put hosts Spalding ahead twice, but Kadeem Price (27) and Denis Noran (76) hit back for a Quorn outfit that was much-changed from the side that had looked title favourites under former boss Tommy Brookbanks.
That doesn’t tell the entire story though, with Spalding robbed of no less than nine players through illness and suspension. The crisis forced boss Pat Rayment to draft in right back Dave Kilby (from Peterborough Northern Star), Chris Gray (from opponents Quorn) and veteran Martyn Cundy at the 11th hour.
So it came as no surprise that the Tulips weren’t quite at their fluent best...not that Rayment and his Spalding side will care one jot. On a tough Sir Halley surface, the Tulips made a lightning start when Cotton fired home his 12th of the season inside 120 seconds with a super near-post finish.
They failed to build on the early opener though and Quorn came back into the game, with Price firing a great chance over. The striker didn’t need asking twice though, as he levelled with a clinical effort just before the half hour.
Experienced striker Tony Battersby, who was again neat and tide, twice worked home keeper Andrew Simpson before the break, but was unable to break his Tulips duck.
It was turgid stuff early in the second period, but a moment of class from Chris Hall helped put Spalding back ahead. He beat a man down the left before delivering superbly for Nightingale, who picked out the top corner with an emphatic header.
The lead never really looked safe though – and it came as no real surprise when Noran surged through a tiring home defence to lift a clever equaliser over the advancing Lee Drury.
With news filtering through of a surprise loss for leaders Holbeach United, a draw wasn’t really much good to either side.
It looked like Spalding had fluffed their lines when Hall ballooned an open goal way over the bar in the 88th minute, but Nightingale was on hand to save the day.
He met a whipped Cotton free kick just before Simpson and his header flew into the roof of the net – leaving Spalding 17 points behind leaders Holbeach with four games in hand.
Tulips: Drury, Kilby, Freeman (Hussey 46), Chamberlain, Fuff, Gray, Cotton, Hall, Battersby, Nightingale, James. Not used: Cundy, McCready, Ebdon, Sanders.
• Tomorrow (Wed): Blackstones v Tulips (7.45pm).
BOSS PAT RAYMENT
“The problems we had to deal with before the game were unbelievable, but the pleasing thing is that we got over the line. “I thought it was a decent game between two good sides – and I can tell you now, Quorn are still a strong side. They’ll be there come the end of the season.”