Realistic HUCKNALL TOWN shed no tears over their early exit from the Central Midlands League Cup -- even though it extended their sequence without a win to seven matches.
Still ravaged by injuries and suspension, Town were very much the underdogs for their Second Round (last 32) tie away to the South Division’s second-placed title-chasers Clifton All Whites. And a young team duly fell to a 3-0 defeat.
But considering they were two down inside the first five minutes, The Yellows did well to escape a battering. Indeed not until the 88th minute did Clifton wrap up their ticket to the next round with a third goal.
With the likes of Leon Aikman, Tom Crisp, John Whetton and Nick Morgan all missing, manager Andy Graves used the tie to field several youngsters and fringe players.
It left a gulf in experience between the two sides, which Clifton were quick to exploit.
Their first goal was the kind of pure misfortune that is blighting Town at the moment. A long ball over the top found Clifton striker Jay Lee Hodgson in a one-on-one with goalkeeper James Beddingham, who produced a terrific save only for the ball to cannon off defender Cameron Davidson and roll agonisingly into the net.
The second goal was well worked, however. Rob Gill, playing against a Town side he once signed for in Dean Barrick’s days as manager, exchanged passes with ex-Scots Grey man Nick Hawkins before scoring from the edge of the area with a shot through a crowd of players.
The goals set up a potential landslide victory for Clifton. But to their credit, The Yellows settled and began to make the home side work harder for their spoils. As the first half wore on, they also coped much better with the home team’s dangerous long ball.
Mark Smith became increasingly influential in midfield too and one delightful ball found Joe Lomax, who took too long over a golden one-on-one chance.
In the second half, Clifton resisted the route-one approach which allowed Town to enjoy more possession. The introduction of 17-year-old substitute Adam Gilliott also gave the locals more pace up front.
Again, Lomas had an opportunity to get his side back in the tie, but got underneath a free header from a cross by Romeo Mugdadza.
More plusses for Town were the return from a knee injury, which required an operation, of Adam Moran, who replaced younger brother Jeremy Moran in midfield, and the performance at left-back of young Jack Ford, who just shaded Smith for the man-of-the-match award.
However, Clifton had an illustrious sub of their own to bring on in another ex-Yellow, Aaron Mitchell, making a comeback after sustaining a serious injury while playing for Des Lyttle’s Town side on Boxing Day 2011.
And the home team finally broke the visitors’ resilience with their clinching goal two minutes from the end, scored by Hodgson.
The Yellows hope to have a much stronger (and fitter) squad available for this weekend’s return to league action, away to Derbyshire struggletrs, Holbrook St Michael’s, who are in the bottom three of the table.