Cup final is milestone in remarkable recovery of Hucknall Town

TOP MAN -- Hucknall Town manager Andy Graves (left) , who has worked a minor miracle at the club.

TOP MAN -- Hucknall Town manager Andy Graves (left) , who has worked a minor miracle at the club.

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A milestone in the remarkable recovery of Hucknall Town is reached on Sunday when they play in their first cup final since that memorable day at Villa Park in 2005.

Ten years have passed since more than 5,000 fans flocked to see Town take on Grays Athletic in the FA Trophy final, in front of the Sky Sports TV cameras.

The club has been strangled by debt and decline ever since. But now the long and painful revival can be decorated with silverware as The Yellows bid to lift the Central Midlands League Cup.

Andy Graves’s side won their semi-final last Saturday, 2-0 against fellow South Division high-fliers Belper United. And they take on another divisional rival, Clifton All Whites, in the final at the neutral venue of Alfreton Town’s Impact Arena Stadium this Sunday (kick-off 3 pm).

“It’s the first step forward since Villa Park,” admitted Graves, who has worked a minor miracle at Watnall Road since taking charge and rebuilding the Town team two years ago.

“People say it’s only step seven on the non-league ladder, but you have to start again somewhere. We have set out what we wanted to do this season by finishing in the top six of the league. So it would be nice to put the icing on the cake and get some silverware.

“I think we deserve it for what we have achieved as a club, both on and off the field. I am particularly pleased for the players. They are a good squad and they work hard for each other.”

Town go into the final as slight favourites because, after winning their last league game on Wednesday night, to clinch an excellent fourth-placed finish, they are above Clifton in the table and have beaten them twice already -- 2-1 away in August and 1-0 at home in December.

“But cup finals are one-offs,” warned Graves. “It will be a tough game. Clifton are a footballing side, which will suit us, and we shouldn’t be short of confidence. If we put the workrate in, we’ll be fine. We are well prepared and we are up for it.”

Graves will be able to play his new star signing, 21-year-old striker Niall Thompson, snapped up from Torquay United last month but ineligible for the semi.

However, James Rigg has been ruled out by injury and it’s touch and go whether fitness-doubts Leon Aikman, Johnny Hamilton and Elliott Pitt make it, Clifton’s squad includes ex-Town striker Rob Gill, ex-Bulwell frontman Scott Litchfield and Hucknall-based defender Michael Banister.

Victory would earn Town their first trophy since the Unibond League title in 2004. However, it’s the present, not the past, that Town are concentrating on -- and in particular Colin Corbett, the club’s kitman who is still in hospital after suffering a stroke a month ago.

“Colin is a big character and a big part of the club,” said Graves. “It would be good to win it for him.”

THE value to Town of Thompson, signed after he was released by Conference side Torquay United, was underlined in a 4-0 win at Holbrook St Michael’s non Wednesday night.

Thompson, who lives in Derby, was enticed to Watnall Road because ex-chairman Brian Holmes knows his father. He scored twice as Town thumped bottom-of-the-table Holbrook 4-0 in their last league game to secure fourth place in the South Division.

Aaron Evans and Montell Gatland were also on target but, most importantly, Town picked up no fresh injuries ahead of the cup final.