YOUNG striker Danwell Francis stole the spotlight from new signing David Graham as he salvaged a precious point for struggling Hucknall Town with a late equaliser on Tuesday night (February 22).
The Yellows were trailing 2-1 to FA Trophy giantkillers Chasetown when Francis popped up with eight minutes left at Watnall Road to end a bleak run of six defeats in seven league games.
Tommy Brookbanks’ side, who have yet to win a league game in 2011, had laboured dreadfully in the second half of the Evo-Stik League, Premier Division clash. And Francis’s clip over Chasetown ‘keeper Ryan Price was, worryingly, their first effort on goal of any sort since the interval.
Home games like this are crucial for teams encased in a relegation scrap, which Town definitely are. And although Francis’s goal made the draw seemed well-earned, it really glossed over the fact that The Yellows were poor in the second period in front of another dismally low crowd (143).
New boy Graham, who has played for Glasgow Rangers and Wigan Athletic among others during an illustrious career, showed composure and some neat touches but cut an isolated figure alongside Tris Whitman up front.
Chasetown, who are looking forward to a tasty FA Trophy, quarter-final clash at home to Blue Square Bet Premier side Mansfield Town on Saturday (February 26), looked only an average side. But they could, and should, have had the match sewn up by the time Francis struck.
Their guilty parties were, in particular, striker Dean Perrow and midfielder Steven Abbott who, despite both netting for the away side, were responsible for some glaring misses.
Perrow scored Chasetown’s winner when they beat Town 1-0 in the league earlier in the month.
At times, The Yellows’ defence looked all at sea, with Joe Pheasant, a goal-line clearance aside, enduring a torrid evening.
Confusingly, one of Town’s better players this season, imposing centre-half Grant Brindley, was watching from the substitutes’ bench until he replaced hamstring victim Martin Ball at half-time.
Alongside Francis, who added spark up front when he went on, a bright spot for Town was the performance of fellow sub Josh Burge.
Burge was sent into the fray in the 32nd minute when Dean Gent sustained a nasty cut to the head. And the youngster was full of energy and running. He also showed he could do a bit with the ball as well.
Using a familiar 4-4-2 formation, The Yellows started well and, on eight, Whitman gave them the lead.
Winger Anthony Griffith Junior, one of Town’s better players on the night, fed the striker, who knocked the ball past Price with the outside of his right boot from ten yards.
However Town failed to build on the goal, allowing Chasetown to get a foothold — Perrow blazing high and wide when well placed.
In the 18th minute came the equaliser. Left-back Christopher Peel whipped a right-wing free-kick into the six-yard box and, at the second attempt, Abbott bundled the ball home.
Three minutes later, Perrow continued his high-and-wide show after doing the hard work by outfoxing Pheasant.
And Pheasant was involved again when Abbott went down in the area under his challenge, only for the visiting player’s ridiculous dive to rightly earn him a yellow card from Lincolnshire referee Neil Guest.
Peel then rattled the top of the crossbar with a free-kick from 25 yards — before The Yellows hit back to almost restore their lead when Burge’s neat side-volley from 18 yards forced Price into a fine fingertip save.
Sadly, in the second half, Brookbanks’ side never got going and should be thankful they weren’t playing a side with a better killer instinct.
Abbott should have scored in the 54th minute with the goal at his mercy but dragged his shot wide. And seven minutes later, the same player forced a smart block from ‘keeper Ross Whalin.
Whalin then went walkabout as a free-kick was flicked on, only for Pheasant to hack it off the line.
Chasetown fans became even more frustrated when Perrow fired over again from a promising position in the 70th minute.
But he was forgiven by the Staffordshire side’s followers five minutes later when he crashed home a penalty to put his team in front.
Whalin’s terrible, rushed goalkick went straight out of play and, from the resulting throw-in, Peel broke into the box and was tripped by Whitman, giving referee Guest no option.
A minute later, Whalin redeemed himself by expertly tipping over a piledriver from Lee Parsons as Chasetown went for the jugular.
But then, from out of nowhere, Town plucked their face-saving equaliser. Griffith Junior supplied a pass to the edge of the box where Francis controlled and advanced on goal before scoring.
More indicative of The Yellows’ evening was a comical moment in injury-time when they had a three-on-two break. Graham released Whitman in the inside-right channel but, at full speed, the ex-Doncaster Rovers winger trod on the ball and the chance was lost.