FANS fearing the worst from the local derby at Ilkeston on Easter Monday extracted some comfort when Hucknall Town bravely resisted high-riding Sheffield — despite playing 66 minutes with only ten men.
With a young and depleted squad as threadbare as the club dare deliver, end-of-season trips to play rampant teams in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League, Division One South promotion play-off spots are not for Yellows supporters of faint hearts.
But if the experience at the BT Local Stadium is anything to go by, the Ilkeston reunion with old friends such as Kevin Wilson, Gary Ricketts and Russell Cooke might not be so unpleasant after all.
Town had every right to arrive at the ground of the world’s oldest football club with some trepidation. For fourth-placed Sheffield had scored 17 goals in their previous four league games, including a 6-0 hiding of Tommy Brookbanks’s Stamford in midweek.
And when The Yellows had full-back James Price sent off as early as the 24th minute, another drubbing surely looked on the cards.
Price was shown red for handling on the line to tip over a shot by Andy Gascoigne that was heading for the top corner. And Gascoigne duly sent ‘keeper James Lindley the wrong way with the resulting penalty.
However Hucknall refused to follow the script for the rest of the afternoon and defended and battled with admirable courage to keep an impressive home side at bay.
In Price’s absence, manager Des Lyttle, who even had to name himself on the substitutes’ bench, shifted young midfielder Sam Sims to left-back — and Town set about stifling and frustrating Sheffield in a display that suggests there’s very little wrong with the spirit in the Yellows dressing-room, whatever has happened this term.
OK, at times, Town were left chasing shadows. As the chances count rose in the rest of the first half, an unmarked Nathan Modest saw a header tipped over by Lindley and then Lee McAnulty headed off the line from a corner.
But they were given a boost at the start of the second period when home goalkeeper Josh Mimms failed to re-appear because of injury. And without a sub goalie on their bench, Sheffield plonked winger Roney between the sticks.
It didn’t have any effect on the game, though. In fact Roney, like Mimms before him, did not have a shot to save because Town were redundant as an attacking unit.
Instead the match continued to be all about last-ditch tackles and bodies being thrown in front of shots at the other end.
Sub Connor Higginson had a shot palmed away by man-of-the-match Lindley and also struck a post, while a couple of long-range efforts by Gascoigne flashed wide.
Mind you, the longer the score stayed 1-0, the braver Town became. And in the last ten minutes, they did get more adventuruous, causing the odd scare in the Sheffield defence.
Tall defender McAnulty was sent up front. Right-back Kieran Walker pumped in a series of dangerous, long throws. And young sub Austin Wallace looked particularly lively.