Hucknall Town face a tough trip to joint CML leaders Sherwood Colliery on Saturday bidding to bounce immediately back from last weekend’s ignominous FA Vase exit.
Hucknall’s unbeaten start to the season was halted in dramatic fashion as they crashed out 4-1 at home to South Division Eastwood Community.
Manager Andy Graves said he was now expecting a reaction from his players as they head to face an unbeaten Sherwood side who are only being kept off the top by goal difference.
He said: “At the end of the day the lads can take the plaudits when it’s going well but also must take responsibility for performances as bad as that. They know it was poor and I expect a positive response.
“I don’t really think anyone should get flattered by last Saturday’s score. We were not beaten by mesmerising, fluid football, that’s for sure.
“We were beaten by ourselves in a calamitous 21-minute spell in the first half. From individual errors we gifted three goals.
“One was from a needlessly given away set piece, another from an own goal and then a poor pass to lose possession right on half-time.
“To be honest their strikers don’t need half a chance, let along gifts. To be fair to them they took them.
“Eastwood capitalised on a below-par performance and good luck to them in the next round.”
He added: “I think we were way below even 25 per cent of what we are capable of.
“In a game you may get away with one or two players being out of sorts, but for whatever reason, collectively, you can’t get by with seven or eight in the same mood.”
Cup progress in several competitions last season was one reason why Graves felt they missed out on the holy grail of promotion and he admitted: “In the grand scheme of things Saturday’s defeat may prove a hidden blessing – time will tell.
“Obviously the run we had last year got in the way of the league.
“Even looking back at the highlights we had perhaps a dozen half-chances, but nothing fell properly for us and we didn’t have the conviction to follow those chances up. They won every second ball and it probably meant more to them.
“We’ve got a funfair on at the ground at the moment that we are having to train around. I won’t take them on the target range as they might miss on there as well.
“I think our lads got it in their heads that this year we only have one thing that’s important to us. But in doing so they still have to have good habits and put in a performance.
“They didn’t do that on Saturday and I wasn’t happy at half-time as I wasn’t the week before to be fair.”
Although they had just reeled off five wins in a row and scored 25 goals in those games, Graves admitted: “Things can get hidden when you’re winning games and one or two of them need to look in the mirror a bit from a performance like last weekend and not be surprised if there are changes on Saturday.
“We have put ourselves under a bit of pressure as we now have to bounce back against joint top of the league where we will have some players missing.
“It’s all about how you respond after a loss. The problem we’ve had in recent seasons is once we lose a game after we’ve been in good form, some people, fans – though they’ve been good this season – and players, sometimes implode on themselves. I don’t know what it is or whether it’s a mental thing.
“They implode on themselves and then look for all the excuses under the sun. If we’d have played our normal football on Saturday, with hard work, we’d have been all right. Instead we got beat and there are no excuses, not from me anyway.”
Graves warned against any knee-jerk reaction to the Vase exit.
“They’ve got to be up for it, no excuses, no tantrums.
“We will juggle things around a bit and perhaps making a few positional changes to try to eke out something.
“But I don’t want to have a massive knee-jerk reaction as that’s what everyone else seems to be having. It’s one game.
“We beat Eastwood 5-0 at the same stage last year and didn’t do us any good whatsoever in the end.
“We have been messed around with fixtures and now we are playing Sherwood at their place when we should have played them the other night at our place – that’s the way it’s going to be this season.
“We’ll move on and regroup for Saturday and make sure we are up for it.”
Against Eastwood in their Vase second qualifying round tie last weekend Hucknall went behind on 23 minutes when Joe Butler headed home from a Billy Brooks free kick.
It was 2-0 nine minutes later as Greg Conn’s cross deflected in off a defender and on the stroke of half-time Eastwood struck a crucial third as good work by Jamie Thomas left it for Pat Webb to poke home through the keeper’s legs.
Butler’s second goal, following a great touch on 72 minutes, rubbed salt in the wounds before Hucknall pulled back an 80th minute consolation from Adam Nelson’s penalty kick.
The win earned Eastwood a first round proper home tie with Dunkirk.