TREBLE-chasing Hucknall Town have it all to do in the Unibond League Cup final after suffering the rarest of defeats – and missing a penalty – in the first leg on Wednesday night.
DROYLSDEN 2 HUCKNALL TOWN 0
Droylsden went some way towards gaining sweet revenge for being beaten to the Premier Division title by inflicting a 2-0 defeat at the Butchers Arms.
It was only Town's third defeat in their last 30 competitive matches and only the fourth time they have failed to score all season, in 55 matches.
But now they face a mountainous task in the second leg at Watnall Road on Tuesday April 27.
The result could be traced to the fact that, because of injuries and unavailabilities, manager Steve Burr was forced to switch his formation to 3-5-2.
Skipper Craig Gaunt returned to the heart of the defence, although he was withdrawn again at half-time. But both Leon McSweeney and Jon McCarthy, who was expected to be back from injury, failed late fitness tests and both Andy Todd and Karl Colley were cup-tied, necessitating a call-up for two under-19s among the substitutes.
The reshaped side were behind from the fourth minute when Gareth Morris curled in a 20-yard free-kick. And the deficit doubled on the half-hour when Town only partially cleared a corner and when Danny Byrne returned the ball into the box, Droylsden skipper Garry Burke was on hand to control, turn and shoot low past Paul Pettinger.
The second half was a different story with Town, back to 4-4-2, on the attack and the home side happy to play on the break.
And it must be said that the locals' performance gave plenty of encouragement for the second leg.
But they fluffed their golden chance to pull a goal back in the 72nd minute when Roy Hunter was tripped inside the area and referee Nicholson had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot.
Curiously, young substitute Mark Ward was entrusted with the kick but his shot was well saved by Paul Phillips in the Droylsden goal.
Town continued to press forward – Chris Davies scraping the woodwork with a shot from 20 yards and Phillips somehow keeping out a Gary Ricketts effort – but there was no way past a solid Droylsden backline.
Compounding Town's frustration was the view that two home players, Gavin Salmon and Morris, should have been sent off in the second half.
Instead Salmon was only shown a yellow card for a 59th minute challenge that flattened 'keeper Pettinger and Morris escaped without even a talking-to when stamping on Hunter's ankle as the penalty was awarded.
GOALS – Morris (Droylsden) 4, Burke (Droylsden) 31.
TOWN LINE-UP (3-5-2) –
DEFENCE: 1Pettinger/ 4Miller 6Winder 8Gaunt.
MIDFIELD: 2Asher 5Hunter 7Mayman 11Davies 3Barrick.
ATTACK: 9Ricketts 10Bacon.
SUBS: Ward (for Gaunt 45), Harding (not used), Scott (not used).
DROYLSDEN LINE-UP –
1Phillips/ 2Regan 3Warner 4Ruffer 5Burke 6Morris 7Murphy 8Brodie 9Cameron 10Salmon 11Byrne. Subs: Chambers (for Salmon 73), Hall (for Brodie 88), Farley (not used).
REFEREE – A.R.Nicholson (Halifax).
TOWN MAN-OF-MATCH – Asher.
CROWD – 424.