IN most circumstances, the throwing away of a two-goal lead would not have left Hucknall Town manager Des Lyttle a happy chappy.
But last Saturday March 24 was no ordinary day. Lyttle’s players had just found out that their wages had been reduced for the remainder of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League, Division One South season.
And so he had only praise for the way a depleted squad, reduced to bare bones and reserve-team kids, knuckled down to gain a point from a 2-2 draw against fellow mid-tablers Coalville Town.
“The players found out about our budget cuts when they read it in the matchday programme before the game,“ disclosed Lyttle.
“I don’t think that’s the greatest way of doing business. I wasn’t too pleased about it and neither were the lads, so it’s full credit to them for the way they performed.
“OK, we couldn’t hold on to a 2-0 lead but I couldn’t fault the attitude and commitment of the players.”
Lyttle reserved special praise for young midfielder Sam Sims, who made his first start in midfield, and Lee McAnulty, who had to step in as a makeshift centre-back after the shock departure of player/coach Craig Armstrong.
“Sam has been chomping at the bit in recent weeks, and I thought he was excellent,” said The Yellows’ chief. “Lee was brilliant as well.”
On a warm, sunny afternoon in front of another small crowd, the game fulfilled all the danger-signs of a dull, irrelevant end-of-season encounter in the first 20 minutes.
But then Hucknall sprang to life, Coalville launched a gallant fightback and the Watnall Road faithful ended up being treated to a lively game, all topped off by a late red card.
The Yellows’ first chance, in the 25th minute, resulted in the opening goal as Theo Smith latched on to a poor back-header by a defender to beat ‘keeper Sean Bowles with a clinical finish and his third goal since rejoining the club earlier this month.
Three minutes later, top scorer Grant Ryan marked his comeback from suspension by doubling the lead. Ryan had seemingly nowhere to go down the left channel but cut inside, beat his marker and rifled a thunderous shot into the bottom corner from an acute angle.
Coalville responded with a 20-yard free-kick from Callum Woodward that cannoned off the bar, leaving ‘keeper James Lindley rooted to the spot.
But there’s little doubt that Hucknall would have gone on to their first home league win for two months had not the woodwork intervened for them too, ten minutes into the second half, when Aidan Brady’s shot struck a post after a mazy run by Smith.
Instead the visitors clawed back the deficit with goals in the 58th and 69th minutes. First Anthony Carney found himself unmarked at the back post to head home. And then a free-kick fell to Lewis Dodd, whose shot crashed in via the underside of the bar.
Both sides had chances to nick it in the last 20 minutes, with Hucknall almost gifted an own goal when centre-half Tom Kellogg’s backpass wrongfooted Bowles and trickled inches wide. At the other end, a shot from Woodward was superbly tipped away by Lindley.
Coalville’s threat might have been expected to vanish when midfielder Lee Miveld was sent off in the 84th minute for a second bookable offence.
But they actually went closest to a winner in the dying minutes as one effort was headed off the line by Chris Timons and a second was fired over from six yards by Dodd after full-back James Price had made a hash of an attempted clearance.