AFC TOTTON haven’t had too much to cheer about in this season of struggle in the Calor Southern Premier Division. But the long-awaited return of crowd favourite Nathaniel Sherborne brought smiles all round towards the end of Saturday’s 2-2 home draw against St Neots Town.

Having missed the whole of last season with a broken leg and ankle problems, Sherborne’s pre-season comeback was cruelly cut short when he twisted his knee in a fund-raising match.

He has been helping out the management team ever since but, as team boss Steve Riley admitted, the real value of the popular striker is out on the pitch.

Riley said: “We’re really pleased to have him back – it’s been a long time coming.

“Sherbs is great in the dressing room, but he’s even better on the pitch. He’s got so much knowledge to pass on to these young lads.

“Sherbs is a fit lad anyway and it’s just a case now of getting over that psychological barrier of getting stuck into tackles. He started doing that today, got a couple headers in and nearly got the winner with a snap shot.

“We’ve got AFC Portchester at home on Tuesday in the Russell Cotes Cup quarter-final and he’ll play a part in that.

“It’s nice to have competition for places. Today we probably had the strongest bench we’ve had all season.”

It wasn’t just Sherborne’s comeback that brought a glow of satisfaction to Riley.

Totton’s first-half performance was one to cherish.

“It’s probably the best football we’ve played all season in terms of possession,” said the boss.

“We were a bit unfortunate to go one down when the ball (a seventh-minute Jake Wooley shot) hit a bobble and went over goalkeeper Steve Mowthorpe’s hands, but we came back with a penalty earned and scored by (AFC Bournemouth loanee) Harrison Gilkes who looked really lively on the right.

“For the next few minutes our link-up play was great to watch and their ’keeper made some good saves, including one from Zac Mouland which he kept out with his feet.”

Unfortunately for Totton, St Neots went straight down the other end and reclaimed the lead on the half-hour as Shane Tolley tapped home.

But the Stags refused to lie down and deservedly levelled just before half-time when Taylor Edwards’s shot was spilled by goalkeeper Nathan Abbey and Mouland reacted quickly to bundle home.

“Their second goal was unlucky for us because they’ve sliced a shot which has landed at the centre-forward’s feet and he’s squared it for the lad to tap in,” said Riley.

“But we pushed forward and got our equaliser and everyone was saying what a great game of football it was when we came off at half-time.

“The second half was more of a stalemate with not a lot of goalmouth action.

But Steve Mowthorpe’s made a good save as did their ’keeper.

“But the big talking point for me was seeing Sherbs come on.”

With fellow strugglers Bashley beaten 1-0 at Chippenham, Totton’s point was enough to lift them out of bottom spot at the Foresters’ expense.