PULSATING, gripping, thrilling, and brilliant. Ask any one of the paltry 103 crowd at the nine-goal thriller between local rivals Hucknall Town and Carlton Town in the Evo-Stik League Cup, Fourth Round on Wednesday night (February 9) and the chances are they will use one of those words to describe it.
It was a real bite-your-nails, edge-of-the-seat derby encounter that no-one — apart from maybe Hucknall boss Tommy Brookbanks — wanted to end.
As it was, Brookbanks enjoyed a happy return to the club where he spent 14 successful years as boss — because Hucknall squeezed into the quarter-finals with a terrific 5-4 win.
But it was heart-stopping stuff for The Yellows chief. His side twice trailed The Millers, who are riding high in second place in Division One South, one level below Hucknall.
And the Stoke Lane clash had everything. Not only nine goals as Carlton lived up to their status as their division’s leading marksmen and Hucknall forgot their scoring woes. But also a penalty, hard tackling, defensive mix-ups, ‘handbag clashes’, yellow cards and a vociferous crowd.
Finally, a double each for ex-Carlton men Martin Ball and Tris Whitman, plus a goal from Rob Gill, sealed The Yellows’ win and earned a trip to divisional rivals Bradford Park Avenue in the quarter-finals.
Brookbanks fielded a strong side and reverted to 4-4-2. Sam Clare, Dean Gent, Whitman and Gill replaced Jared Holmes, Josh Burge, Anthony Griffith Junior and Dion Chambers from the league defeat to FC United of Manchester four days earlier.
To add extra spice to the clash, there were no fewer than seven ex-Carlton men in The Yellows squad — Fabian Smith, Grant Brindley and Steve Chaplin, as well as Ball, Gent, Whitman and Holmes. And there were even five former Hucknall players — Daniel Fletcher, Curtis Shaw, Terry Hawkridge, Antwon Bonnick and Warren Hatfield — in Carlton’s line-up.
The Yellows dominated the early stages, with Gill at the heart of the action. The ex-professional striker, in his second spell at Watnall Road, beautifully brought down a diagonal pass for a shot that was saved at the near post by Neil West. And a minute later, he fed Whitman, whose low drive was held by the ‘keeper.
Tempers flared when Fletcher caught Gent with a late tackle, for which the full-back was booked. But seven minutes later, Carlton, who stuffed Hucknall’s FA Cup conquerors, top-of-the-table Barwell, 4-2 in the league four days earlier, opened the scoring. An inch-perfect cross by former Football League veteran Neil Grayson was nodded home by striking partner Massiah McDonald.
Hucknall equalised with a gem on 33. Goalkeeper Ross Whalin threw the ball to Gill, who was just short of the halfway-line on the right when passing inside to Callum Lloyd, who fed it forward to Tyeisse ‘TJ’ Nightingale. The striker spun and threaded a fabulous pass of his own to the onrushing Ball, who calmly beat West from 12 yards.
Three minutes before the break, Ball struck again when he rose to head home a corner from Gent. But Brookbanks’s half-time team talk did not have the desired effect because from being 2-1 up, The Yellows found themselves 3-2 down by the 55th minute.
Thirty seconds after the restart, Grayson, who is aged 46, stooped to head home. And then he struck again, slotting a rebound past Whalin, who could only parry a Hawkridge shot.
However Hucknall were soon not only level but also 5-3 up as the amazing drama continued.
Ball got on the end of a Gent free-kick and when his effort was blocked by West, the ball spooned up for the diminutive Whitman to jump highest and head over the line.
Next, after Shaw and Hawkridge shots had brought out the best in Whalin, Gill played a one-two with Whitman and slammed home, at the second attempt, the goal his performance deserved.
And two minutes later, Whitman latched on to a cracking pass by Gill to clip the ball past West.
The excitement wasn’t over yet because after Whalin had tipped away a Grayson piledriver, the resulting corner led to referee Stephen Cook blowing for a penalty when he spotted a handball among a cluster of Hucknall players who were trying to clear. Shaw duly sent Whalin the wrong way to set up a frantic last 12 minutes.
The finale saw Carlton throw everything at their bid to force extra-time. McDonald was thwarted, Ashley Kitchen had a header cleared off the line and both Bonnick and Grayson snatched at shots in a goalmouth melee. So there was huge relief in the Hucknall camp when Cook called time on a breathless, breathtaking match.