THE WITCHING hour will soon be upon new-look Hucknall Town after a mild and meek surrender to local-derby rivals Ilkeston on Boxing Day.
In early November, chairman and joint owner Steve Greaves promised that funds would be made available if Town were well-placed enough to push for promotion back to the Evo-Stik League’s Premier Division.
But the Ilkeston setback was their FIFTH defeat on the trot, leaving The Yellows fully eight points off the play-off places.
So instead of Lapland for the Christmas holidays, manager Des Lyttle and his players are stuck in limboland as they await the direction the club are to be turned for the remainder of the season.
The Boxing Day derby would have been the ideal time to kick-start the Greaves/Lyttle/Michael Johnson regime into action again — especially as it attracted the biggest crowd (567) at Watnall Road since November 2009 when FC United Of Manchester were the visitors.
And Lyttle tried to inject new life into his side with a host of changes that saw on-loan trio Francis Green, Kallum Keane and Nathan Stainfield, plus suspended full-back Matt Baxter, all omitted, and Curtis Shaw, Anthony Gregory, Kieron Walker and James Price all restored.
But it was to no avail. Instead the festive stage belonged to one of The Yellows’ former managers, Kevin Wilson, who enjoyed a successful return to Hucknall with his current club. As did their skipper Russell Cooke and veteran striker Gary Ricketts, who scored one of Ilkeston’s goals in a man-of-the-match performance that reminded Town fans what they are missing.
The Yellows have scored just twice in those five straight defeats, prompting ironic chants of ‘Let’s pretend we’ve scored a goal’ from the stands.
The doom and gloom that is beginning to hover over Watnall Road was deepened further by what appeared to be a serious knee-injury for big defender Aaron Mitchell, only weeks after signing from Eastwood Town.
Mitchell, the club’s new skipper after the exit of Wayne Diuk, stretched for a ball five minutes into the second half and fell awkwardly before being stretchered off.
Town re-organised by switching Walker to partner player/coach Craig Armstrong at the heart of the defence and sending on Curtis Gregory to play right-back. And a further change saw Lyttle withdraw subdued youngster Corey Gregory to revert from a 4-5-1 formation to 4-4-2 with Phil Massingham partnering Grant Ryan up front.
But no sooner had the move been made than Ilkeston snatched their killer second goal just after the hour mark. Another Town old boy, James Cullingworth, swung in a low cross from the right that Ricketts flicked past young on-loan goalkeeper Ben White.
As The Robins continued to dominate possession, things could have got even worse for The Yellows as Ricketts volleyed just wide, after chesting down a cross from the impressive Matt Richards, and also dragged a left-foot effort past the post.
Ilkeston were also almost gifted a third goal in injury-time when Armstrong played the ball back to White without looking, enabling substitute Andrew Osei-Siribour to nip in and round White for a shot that was cleared off the line by Walker.
By then, most Town fans were beginning to trudge home, thoroughly dejected by their Boxing Day fare, which had been far removed from a Christmas cracker.
On a pudding of a pitch, the title-chasing visitors were always the better side, despite early chances for Yellows frontman Ryan — one of them coming after a complete miskick just outside the box from Ilkeston centre-half Dan Partridge.
As The Robins got into their stride, full-back Ryan Wilson drove inches too high from 25 yards. And then an incisive move, started by Cooke and continued by Ricketts led to young striker Tyrell Wait firing in a fierce effort that White fingertipped over the bar.
Joe Maguire also crashed a header off the bar before Ilkeston finally made the breakthrough three minutes from the interval. Ricketts used all his experience to win a free-kick that James Reid whipped in for Jack Watts to attack the space and get there before White to head home.
The goal was the beginning of the end for a Town side sorely lacking confidence. And with the defeat signalling the end of another year to forget in the recent history of the club, they are desperate to start 2012 on a winning note in another derby on Bank Holiday Monday (January 2), this time against Rainworth Miners Welfare.