FA Cup giantkillers Sporting Khalsa added to the home discomforts of Heanor Town and knocked them off the top of the Midland League, Premier Division table.
While Heanor have been unstoppable on their travels this season, winning eight out of eight, they have stuttered at home.
And a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Khalsa, who reached the final qualifying round of the FA Cup before losing to FC United of Manchester, added to their baffling woes at The Town Ground, where they have now lost three and drawn two of their nine league games.
The Lions knew it would be a demanding fixture against a well-drilled West Midlands outfit, who have now won nine of their 12 league starts. But they weren’t quite expecting another reverse, which yielded only a late goal as consolation.
For all Heanor’s effort and desire, it wasn’t enough, and they duly slipped to second place in the table, two points behind new leaders Hereford, who routed Rocester 4-0.
In front of a good-sized crowd of 198, the home side made the early running and fashioned an opening in the third minute when Greg Marriott delivered a free-kick to the feet of striker Stephen Hart, who turned sharply to fizz a snap-shot at goal that was saved by ‘keeper James Pemberton, diving low.
Khalsa looked rigid and organised in defence, as shown when Tim Jackson tracked a dangerous run towards the near post by Kieran Debrouwer. But when they broke free in the 23rd minute, they almost snatched the lead as dimunutive winger David Meese drove a shot that crashed back off an upright.
Mike Perks was next to create a chance for the visitors, sending a deft chip to the back stick where goalkeeper Ben Townsend collected bravely before launching a long punt up to Hart who fed Jay Cooper for a Heanor chance. Winger Cooper did everything right until the time came to shoot and could only find the side-netting.
The deadlock was broken in the 36th minute when Heanor were temporarily down to ten men because of an injury to Danny Booth. A Khalsa conrer wasn’t cleared with any conviction, allowing Tesfa Robinson to roll the ball home from close range.
Booth soon had to leave the field, to be replaced by Chris Bettney. And the second half was barely 15 minutes old when the Heanor management made two more substitutions, sending on Nathan Benger and Jamie Clarke to replace Mark Smith and Hart.
The hope was that the Lions would stamp their authority on the game. But with Khalsa content to defend in numbers, it never really happened.
The visitors were breached when Benger’s pass found Clarke, whose acrobatic effort sailed inches over the bar. But as they moved higher and higher up the pitch, Khalsa took advantage of the extra space they were afforded and doubled their lead 74 minutes in. This time Craig Bannister broke free down the right and left defender Daniel Claridge for dead before crossing for Matthew Martin to head home.
To their credit, Heanor refused to lie down and, two minutes later, they were a whisker away from setting up a grandstand finale as Cooper’s header was cleared off the line. As the ball broke loose, Dan White looked certain to head his first goal for the club, only for his effort to be deflected over the top by teammate Benger, who couldn’t get out of the way in time.
The home side at last gained some reward for their commitment in the 88th minute when Clarke showed quick feet inside the box and smashed home a goal similar to the first of the day.
But the Willenhall outfit were able to hold on for the three points and a message to the rest of the league that they too will be challenging for the championship come the end of the campaign.
The Lions are at home again this Saturday when they entertain another West Midlands side in Boldmere St Michael’s, who currently sit fourth from bottom in the table after losing nine of their 14 league games so far.
HEAN OR LINE-UP -- Townsend/ Marriott, Claridge, Booth (Bettney 38), Hall, White, Smith (Benger 63), Naylor, Hart (Clarke 60), Debrouwer, Cooper. SUBS NOT USED: Edridge, Whittingham.