Jubilant Hucknall Town have reached their first cup final since their memorable appearance in front of the Sky Sports TV cameras at Villa Park exactly ten years ago.
The level of non-league football Town currently find themselves in might be far removed from the days of FA Trophy days of Dean Barrick, Danny Bacon and Gary Ricketts.
But making the final of the Central Midlands League Cup represents a genuine milestone in the remarkable recovery of The Yellows, who have been on their knees, financially, in recent seasons.
A 2-0 victory over fellow South Division high-fliers Belper United in last Saturday’s semi-final, played at the neutral ground of Coronation Park, Eastwood, sealed Town’s ticket.
And Andy Graves’s side now meet another divisional rival, Clifton All Whites, in the final at Alfreton Town’s Impact Arena Stadium this coming Sunday, 3rd May (kick-off 3 pm).
Striker Adam Nelson was the hero of the semi-final triumph as he recovered from a car-crash on his way to the match to not only play but also score one of The Yellows’ goals.
Nelson’s car was hit by a motorbike, which meant he arrived at the ground only 25 minutes before kick-off. But even though he was shaken up, he escaped injury and bravely took his place in Town’s side.
What’s more, he broke the deadlock with the tie’s crucial opening goal in the 55th minute. A corner was swung in by Ben Waplington and the frontman they call ‘AD’ courageously planted his head among a sea of flying boots to loop the ball over the Belper ‘keeper.
The goal maintained Nelson’s impressive recent recovery from a mid-season goal-drought, although it must be said that he should have scored only moments earlier when skying the ball over from six yards after onrushing substitute Montel Gatland’s effort, from another flagkick, had come back off a post.
The tie as a whole was not the most entertaining. But Town were more than satisfied considering they were without two of their most influential players, midfielder Leon Aikman, who was still injured, and new striker Niall Thompson, who was ineligible because he hadn’t signed on within the stipulated previous 28 days.
Also, although goalkeeper James Beddingham was back in the line-up after his holiday in Australia, he played only hours after stepping off his plane at Heathrow Airport at seven o’clock that same morning! After a 42-hour journey from Down Under, Beddingham hopped on to a train to Nottingham and just had enough time for a quick shower before readying himself for action!
Luckily, he was called into very little action because Town’s solid back four, marshalled by Joe Atkinson and Dave Leak, gave him perfect protection, breaking up any notable Belper attacks.
Indeed it’s fair to say that the rutted, dusty Coronation Park pitch gave The Yellows as much trouble as their Derbyshire opponents. After only 15 minutes, the awful playing surface forced off full-back Elliott Pitt, who pulled a calf muscle and had to be substituted. And later on, both his replacement, James Rigg, and also Johnny Hamilton sustained injuries of their own.
Town were always the more positive of the two teams, with Hamilton heading wide and then trying a speculative shot from distance that looped over the bar. Belper’s only effort of the first half was a long-range shot that Beddingham held comfortably.
The Yellows pressed harder in the second period, with Waplington growing into the game and posing problems down the left.
Nelson’s goal relieved any anxiety or pressure, and the tie was wrapped up 15 minutes from the end. This time, Waplington’s corner to the near post was met by Aaron Evans, whose header thundered past the ‘keeper to send the large contingent of Town fans behind the goal into raptures.
With Town now in control, they successfully ran down the clock, leaving boss Graves full of praise for his troops.
“It was not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but we did what we had to do on a very difficult pitch,” Graves said.
“The support was fantastic and the lads thoroughly appreciated it. I told them to enjoy the win and then get ready for our last league game before even thinking about the final.”
TOWN LINE-UP (4-4-1-1) -- Beddingham/ Henry, Leak, Atkinson, Pitt/ Evans, Maxwell, Davidson, Waplington/ Hamilton/ Nelson. SUBS USED: Rigg (for Pitt), Gatland (for Hamilton), Robinson N. (for Rigg).