ONE of the key factors behind Truro City's title challenge this season has been the impressive recent form of keeper Martin Rice.
Since his recall to the side, after being unceremoniously dropped following some indifferent performances in favour of youngster Tom Brooks, the 24-year-old former Exeter City and Torquay United Number 1 has kept six clean sheets in City's 10-match unbeaten league run.
The latest came in Saturday's 3-0 home win over Hemel Hempstead Town (see page 104), which kept City eight points clear at the top of the Zamaretto Southern League's premier division.
And Rice attributes his much improved form to hours of extra training alongside a talented teenage keeper in Devon.
He admitted that he had found the transition from being a full-time professional to a part-timer with City difficult after signing a two year contract before the start of last season.
He lost his place in the side at the start of October. But since being brought back by manager Lee Hodges has conceded just four league goals.
He said: "I have been doing a little bit of extra training twice a week with a very talented 15-year-old keeper Dan Law, who is having a trial with Torquay later this month.
"We train together in a local field at Topsham, where I live, on a Sunday and on Wednesday evenings under spotlights in a field at his parents' home in Crediton."
And the 50 mile round trips to do the extra training, in addition to his twice weekly club sessions under the club's goalkeeping coach Deba Sidhu, are paying dividends.
"It has been pretty hard but it has been benefiting.
"It is just the two of us and we do 90 minutes specialised goalkeeping training on a Sunday and two hours on a Wednesday. It was hard to be dropped but you have got to come back stronger and that is what I think I have been doing.
"It has been going really well and I am really pleased.
"I am more confident and the team are doing really well. It is a delight to be behind all the lads in the defence.
"We are in a strong position and hopefully we will stay there now. I would rather be eight points clear than eight points behind.
"The dressing room is really happy this year. I think last season we were all over the shop. We are a close knit group, just like a big happy family."
And the likeable Rice is confident that City can go on and clinch promotion.
"We just want to carry on and get promoted. It is a tough league to get out of but I think we can do it."
This Saturday City face a difficult trip to Staffordshire to play Hednesford, who dropped to ninth after their 2-1 defeat at second-placed Salisbury City on Saturday – their fourth defeat in five games.
City will be without Barry Hayles, who starts a three match ban after being sent off against Windsor & Eton.
And boss Lee Hodges admitted Hayles' absence was a blow.
He said "Barry is a big loss but it gives others a chance to step up to the plate."
Les Afful is struggling with an ankle problem, while skipper Marcus Martin injured his shoulder against Hemel Hempstead Town.
City's rearranged game at home to Cirencester Town will now be played on Tuesday February 1 (7.45pm).