Hucknall Town, Bulwell and Linby in derbies to light up Christmas

GLORY BOYS -- Bulwell's successful management trio (from left), Terry Witts, Ian Lowe and Steve 'Ozzy' Osborne.
GLORY BOYS -- Bulwell's successful management trio (from left), Terry Witts, Ian Lowe and Steve 'Ozzy' Osborne.

Back-to-back local derbies are the Christmas crackers Hucknall Town need to pull to get their season on track again.

Town will be seeking to end their seven-match run without a win when they tackle struggling Linby Colliery Welfare on Saturday.

But the big one is on Boxing Day next Thursday when they travel to meet all-conquering Bulwell, who are in the process of usurping The Yellows as the top football club in the Dispatch district.

It’s a match guaranteed to draw a big crowd to The Bulls’ Greenwich Avenue ground at Basford, with many fans sure to take in the 1 pm kick-off before making their way into Nottingham for Forest’s clash with Harry Redknapp’s QPR.

But it’s also a match that exposes brutally the sad decline in recent seasons of once-proud Town, 2005 FA Trophy finalists.

Their record, under a string of different managers, owners and chairmen, is pitted against the meteoric rise of Bulwell under the inspirational management triumvirate of Terry Witts, Steve ‘Ozzy’ Osborne and Ian Lowe -- not forgetting dedicated secretary Andy Radford.

Less than three years ago, it was unthinkable that the two clubs would ever meet. Town were playing in the third tier of non-league football in the Premier Division of the EvoStik Northern Premier League, while Bulwell were languishing in the bottom four of the Notts Senior League’s (NSL) Senior Division.

But Tommy Brookbanks’s Town were relegated, Bulwell appointed Witts and Osborne, fresh from the duo’s Sunday glories with Scots Grey, and the rest is history.

Ravaged by financial woes, The Yellows reverted to amateur status, suffered another relegation and chose to drop two more levels into the Central Midlands League’s (CML) South Division, converting their reserve-team into their only team.

In contrast, Bulwell won the NSL’s league and cup double twice, not dropping a single point last term, and earned promotion to the CML, alongside Town and Linby.

And what has happened since? The Bulls are top of the table by five clear points, while The Yellows sit in the bottom seven.

In fairness to Andy Graves’s side, they will be expecting to beat third-from-bottom Linby, who have won just twice in 21 games all season.

They did so at Church Lane on August Bank Holiday Monday, recording a 2-0 success. And although they have hit a sticky patch, Graves points out that they have been knocked sideways by a series of injuries and suspensions that has had “an unsettling and disruptive bearing on our small squad”.

The likes of Leon Aikman, Mark Smith and Tom Crisp should be back for the festive derbies, and Graves hopes to have acquired a new signing too.

But striker Ashley Whitt is still injured and impressive midfielder Sam Sims has left to join title-chasing South Normanton Athletic, who made him a financial offer Town couldn’t hope to match.

Dave Marlow’s Linby are desperate for points. Any kind of points. But after ten wins in 12 matches -- with the only defeats coming in cup-ties -- cock-a-hoop Bulwell face no such worries.

Joint boss Osborne has always said it was his ambition to overthrow Hucknall Town as the area’s number one club.

The chance has come far more quickly than even he could have anticipated. But Boxing Day 2013 could be the landmark day they have been waiting for.