A dramatic goal deep into stoppage time by on-loan winger Devante Reittie kept relieved Hucknall Town top of the table in the Central Midlands League’s South Division on Saturday.
A game of many missed chances at Watnall Road against mid-table South Normanton looked to be heading for a goalless draw. But with less than a minute left on the clock, former Mansfield Town academy player Reittie struck the ball home from close range to earn a 1-0 victory.
Town now have three points of breathing space over second-placed Sherwood Colliery, who kept their unbeaten record intact but were held to a 2-2 draw at home by Hilton Harriers.
The match was given an early 1.30 pm kick-off, and the players could have been mistaken for not being awake as the opening period was largely uneventful.
It wasn’t until the 12th minute that the action pepped up and, surprisingly, the visitors were responsible. James Pearce stepped up to take a free-kick, which David Leak had conceded just outside the area, and his effort cannoned off the bar, with Michael Randall stranded in the Hucknall goal.
Mitchell Slawson was the only Town player to test the South Normanton ‘keeper as he tried his luck from range a couple of times. However, the shots were easy catching practice for Branon Meehan.
Leading goalscorer Joe Ashurst was lively up front for the Yellows and he produced some nice skill to allow Jordan Phillips to run through and provide a terrific chance for Jamie Crawford, whose one-on-one opportunity was spurned.
Ashurst was at it again in the 41st minute when he fizzed a ball across the South Normanton box, but it was whipped in with too much force and left Reittie, who was having an unusually quiet game at this point, helpless in front of goal.
Moments before the half-time whistle, a quick counter-attack from Normanton saw Robert Fretwell drive the ball past Randall. But to the relief of the ‘keeper and Town boss Andy Graves, the linesman’s flag had been raised seconds before.
The second half started like the first with the opening ten minutes not containing any moments to note, other than a Leak header which just brushed the post.
The disappointing opening to the half forced Graves to become proactive as he made a bold double substitution which introduced Kajally Danso and Sam Hawkins for Slawson and Michael Banister.
The change in players had an immediate effect and Hucknall began to stamp their authority on the game. Danso capitalised on a mix-up between defenders Frazer Kirk and Josh Deakin to set-up Crawford, who proceeded to miss the best opportunity of the game as his shot went straight to Meehan.
Reittie began to grow in confidence on the left wing and his skill won a valuable corner just after the hour mark. The resulting set-piece was taken by Ashurt and was met by Leak after Danso had missed the ball by the smallest of margins. The eventual effort by the defender hit the top of the crossbar from just five yards.
Once again, Leak found himself in front of goal when a Ben Jones clearance landed perfectly in front of him as he beat the offside trap. Unfortunately, Meehan closed Leak down very quickly and forced the shot narrowly wide.
Graves feared the game was destined to finish scoreless, so he made one last shake of the dice and moved Danso up front, with winger Reittie playing just behind him. This tactical change saw the Yellows create one-way traffic and finish the game very strongly.
Danso was at the centre of attention in the last five minutes as he missed two golden opportunities. An audacious backheel from a low cross hit the side-netting of the South Normanton goal before he ballooned a shot over the bar from five yards after a Jones cross had come back off the woodwork.
When the winner finally arrived, it stemmed from another corner, this time fired into the box by Ashurst. It led to yet another attempt on goal by man-of-the-match Leak, and yet another save by the spectacular Meehan. Unfortunately for Normanton, the ball could only be deflected out to the waiting Reittie, three yards from goal, and he showed a level of composure nobody else could throughout this affair with a shot that hit the roof of the net and sent the Hucknall players, bench and fans into a frenzy.
Graves said: “The game was frustrating. We had a very poor first half when we were lethargic. South Normanton didn’t want to speed the game up and played it at their own pace. But we didn’t do anything to change it.
“We had a few words at half-time. We needed to lift the tempo, but I still needed to make changes just to get something to happen.”
HUCKNALL TOWN LINE-UP: Randall, Jones, Jenkins, Atkinson, Leak, Phillips, Banister (Hawkins), Slawson (Danso), Reittie, Ashurst, Crawford (Henry).