Hucknall Town beat Kirby Muxloe to set up play-off tie at Hinckley

Hucknall Town secured their place in the United Counties League Division One play-offs with a convincing 3-0 victory over Kirby Muxloe at Watnall Road on the final day of the regular season.

Monday, 25th April 2022, 10:38 pm
Hucknall town manager Andy Graves is happy to have wrapped up the play-off place.

Before kick-off, the Yellows knew that a win would see them finish inside the top five, and they delivered the result required thanks to strikes from Aaron Short, Jamie Crawford and Joe Butler.

Andy Graves’ side produced a composed performance across the pitch, which should give them plenty of confidence ahead of next weekend’s one-legged semi-final against Hinckley.

Town started the game with real purpose and created a number of chances to open the scoring within the first 15 minutes, but the likes of Butler and Joe Ashurst could only steer their early attempts off-target.

Just after the half hour mark, a big opportunity was presented to Craig Westcarr after a surging run from Butler, but Hucknall’s top scorer fired narrowly wide. The same pair combined once more six minutes later, when Westcarr’s shot from just outside the box was diverted wide by a visiting defender.

On the stroke of half-time, the Yellows finally found a way past Kirby goalkeeper Robert Peet, with Short netting his third goal of the campaign. Butler’s header from Westcarr’s corner was saved by Peet, but the Hucknall captain was first to the loose ball and poked home from close range.

Less than four minutes after the break, Town doubled their advantage through Jamie Crawford, who scored for the second successive home match. Midfielder Michael Banister – playing at Watnall Road for the final time – created the chance with a brilliant nutmeg and through-ball, before Crawford looped the ball into the net.

However, arguably the pick of the afternoon’s goals was scored by Butler in the 68th minute, when he collected the ball inside his own half and dribbled past numerous Kirby players before beating the keeper with aplomb.

At the other end, Hucknall keeper Louis Kinnerley barely had a save to make thanks to the protection provided by his back four, with winger Kyle Tott going closest for the visitors in the second period.

The hosts could be certain that their spot in the play-offs was safe in the 84th minute when Kirby were reduced to ten men, as left-back Taylor Blatchford was correctly sent off for a professional foul on Westcarr.

Then, in the final stages, Westcarr could have made the victory even more comfortable, but his two efforts from range were both saved smartly by Peet.

Yellows manager Graves was understandably very happy with the victory, which enabled his side to finish four points clear of sixth-placed Aylestone Park in the final league standings.

He said: “We’re all really pleased after that, for obvious reasons. Hopefully there’s still two games left for us to play before the summer break.

“I think we deserve to be there [in the play-offs] to be perfectly honest, because we’ve been pretty consistent across the season.

“I thought we were a little bit nervous to start with today, which anyone could forgive the players for given what was at stake, but getting the first goal was important, and then the second half was really positive.”

After concluding the regular campaign with a much-needed three points, Graves revealed his optimism ahead of next week’s semi-final against Hinckley.

“We beat Hinckley once [during the season], and they beat us once, so it’s set up nicely to be a really good battle next Saturday,” the Town boss stated.

“I believe it’s on an all-weather pitch so hopefully it’ll suit us nicely, because we like to play football.

“It’s a one-off game; everything we set out to do this season we’ve achieved, and it’s now about trying to make the most of the situation we’re in.

“The lads are really looking forward to it, and I’m sure the fans are as well.”

Hucknall: Kinnerley, Maxwell, Brown, Sims (Lamb 74’), Short (c), Phillips, Crawford, Banister (Ryan 70’), Westcarr, Butler, Ashurst. Subs not used: Bartley, Jenkins.