Only three times have leaders Mickleover Royals failed to win in the Central Midlands League’s South Division so far this season. And two of those games have been against HUCKNALL ROLLS LEISURE.
That was the measure of a superb goalless draw that the resilient Rollers prised from frustrated Mickleover last Saturday.
It followed a similar stalemate when the sides met at Rolls last October. And for good measure, Jez Corthorn and Jonathan ‘Toddy’ Wass’s team celebrated with a 2-1 victory in their latest league match at home to Real United on Wednesday night.
A 0-0 draw always sounds like a boring game. But in fact, Mickleover’s Raygar Stadium played host to a really entertaining contest in which both sets of players gave 100% and underlined how every point gained in such a quality division is worth its weight in gold.
Rolls had to shrug off the cobwebs in what was their first fixture since 17th January because of bad weather. But they showed terrific concentration and bravery to shut out the tabletoppers, with skipper Aaron Short epitomising their efforts. Short was a rock, leading the backline admirably.
Not that there weren’t other heroes on an afternoon when Rolls also welcomed back the influential Matthews brothers after injury. Kane made his first start since November, while Jack made his first squad appearance since October.
Mickleover created the first chances, forcing ‘keeper Jack Walker to parry and then defender Greg Conn to make a last-ditch tackle. But Rolls came closest to taking the lead when a trademark corner by Chay Bettridge found the head of midfield dynamo Rory Smith, who brought a top save from the ‘keeper.
A crunching tackle by midfield man-mountain Jack James left the home side in no doubt that the Hucknall side were up for it. And an inspired half-time team-talk by Corthorn and Wass gave Rolls an equally encouraging lift, reminding the players that although they’d played well in the opening 45 minutes, they would need to match it in the second period.
They did just that in a closely-contested, physical battle that neither side wanted to back down from.
Short, Conn and James Duncan constantly thwarted the Mickleover attacks -- to such an extent that their best chance was a 20-yard effort, brilliantly saved by Walker, diving away to his right.
Rolls had to wait until the final 20 minutes before their next attempts at breaking the deadlock. But top scorer Jack Allen went close when beating his man down the right for a shot that was well saved.
ROLLS LINE-UP (3-5-2) -- Walker/ Conn, Duncan, Short/ Matthews K. James, Smith R., Bettridge, Thomas/ Allen J., Smith J. SUBS: Marshall, Matthews J., Wass.
WEDNESDAY night’s match at home to Real was a scrappy affair, with Rolls not reaching their highest gear. But there were few complaints after beating a side undefeated in four.
After a patchy start, the locals grabbed a foothold, taking the lead when a quick throw-out by ‘keeper Walker opened up Real’s backline and found striker Jack Smith, who cut inside to calmly finish from inside the box and end his goal drought.
The ever-dangerous Smith doubled the lead when pouncing again early in the second half. This time he latched on to a fine through-ball by midfield maeastro Jack Matthews, making his first start for three months after injury, turned his marker and drilled home from the edge of the box.
At the other end, Real forced the outstanding man-of-the-match Walker into a brilliant tip-over before pulling a goal back. But despite facing more pressure, the Rolls defence stayed professional and coped admirably.
ROLLS LINE-UP (3-5-2) -- Walker/ Conn, Duncan, Short/ Smith R., James, Matthews J., Bettridge, Thomas/ Smith J., Allen J.