HUCKNALL Town expect to find out just how good they are when they face their stiffest examination of the new season so far in the next few days.
In a couple of attractive home matches that should attract 200-plus crowds, Town take on Sutton Coldfield Town on Saturday (October 1) and then New Mills on Wednesday October 5.
West Midlands outfit Sutton Coldfield currently sit joint top of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League, Division One South table, alongside Kevin Wilson’s free-scoring Ilkeston. They only just missed out on the promotion play-offs last term.
Meanwhile New Mills, who are based in High Peak, Derbyshire, are sixth in the table. They were promoted as champions of the North-West Counties League last term and are managed by former Stoke City, Burnley and Coventry City defender Ally Pickering (44).
“Both games are going to be tough,” confessed Yellows’ assistant manager Gary Stones this week.
“They will be good tests and should give us an indication of where we are and whether we need to strengthen the squad or change things.
“The players are doing really well at the moment but we just lack experience in certain areas.”
Town themselves sit in eighth place in the table, only six points behind Sutton Coldfield and only a point behind New Mills.
And they maintained their healthy start to the campaign by prising a 1-1 draw out of Stoke-on-Trent outfit, Kidsgrove Athletic, in their latest league match on Saturday September 24.
The match was blighted by some controversial refereeing, which angered the management teams of both sides. Official Joseph Clark dished out no fewer than six yellow cards but nearly all were soft and for innocuous challenges or flare-ups.
Clark certainly failed to lift a drab first half that yielded precious few chances. Kidsgrove’s prolific striker Dave Walker turned well for a low shot that was deflected on to the outside of a post and then centre-back Wayne Johnson headed wide when unmarked, eight yards out, from a corner.
But Town, who welcomed back Kieren Watson up front and Keeran Walker at right-back, responded well. James Jepson drove a free-kick wide before Callum Lloyd unleashed a 20-yarder that was saved, down to his right, by ‘keeper Steve Hodgson.
At the start of the second half, Town were hit by a sucker punch that gave Kidsgrove the lead. A shot that beat goalie James Lindley was somehow cleared off the line, only for Tom Urwin to pick up the rebound and slot home from close range.
The Yellows reacted well, with Nathan Watson shooting wide from a free-kick and Grant Ryan seeing a deflected effort fly narrowly wide.
And as they continued to apply pressure on the home backline, there was little doubt they deserved their equaliser when it finally arrived in the 71st minute.
On the day that an ex-Town manager, Steve Burr, led his current club, Kidderminster Harriers, to a shock victory at Mansfield Town, it was an ex-Stag who netted the goal. Midfielder Callum Lloyd, who has impressed all season, got on the end of a cross and looped his header over Hodgson.
Seven minutes later, Kidsgrove should have regained their lead when Mark Beeston blazed over from close range with the goal at his mercy.
And in the dying moments of the match, they went close again when a scramble in the box led to a smart save by Lindley from one of his own defenders.
But in between those two scares, Town had a chance of their own to win it as left-sided midfielder Aidan Brady saw his shot flash agonisingly wide.
In the end, a draw was probably the fairest outcome, although The Yellows were certainly happier than the home side, who have now shared the spoils in five of their opening nine fixtures.