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Toughest task ahead as Town go top

Hucknall's Michael Banister is in his best form ever in a Hucknall shirt
Hucknall's Michael Banister is in his best form ever in a Hucknall shirt

Having hit the top of the table, Hucknall Town boss Andy Graves said the most difficult thing now would be staying there.

But, having missed out when slipping up during a fixtures backlog last season, he is hoping the tables can be turned this time around and the Yellows can open a gap on their cup-chasing rivals in the next few weeks to leave the pressure on them.

Hucknall hit the summit of the Central Midlands South with a 2-0 derby win at fifth-placed local rivals Linby Colliery last weekend and Graves smiled: “I can’t remember us ever having been top before.

“So hopefully, with the others having Vase games in the next couple of weeks, if we can win our league games while they’re doing that we can start to pull away and put a bit of daylight between us. It’s all down to us really.

“We have got there and now we have to work doubly hard as we’re there to be shot at – not only because we’re Hucknall Town, which lifts everyone as they all want to beat Hucknall Town – but also because we are top of the league.

“We will just give respect to whoever we are playing and know we are going to be in for a hard game. It’s in our hands now.”

He added: “It was important to win at Linby as that was our game in hand. Sherwood have slipped up on points and even if Eastwood won their game in hand, our goal difference was better, so it was important.

“Last season we had so many games in hand, but lose one on catch-up and it proved too much with all those cup competitions.

“We have done it slightly differently this year and not put all our eggs in one basket. With cup games we haven’t put out our strongest side and we have given everybody in the squad games. Our focus has got to be the league.

“We’re not thinking too much about where we are. We just need to win our games and see where that takes us.”

Hucknall were not tested as much at Linby as they expected

Graves said: “We were expecting a difficult game against Linby on paper but, in the end, it was fairly comfortable to be honest. “Second half we should have bagged a few more goals than we did, but we were creative which is the most important thing.

“Linby were competitive all the way through but our quality shone through a bit in the end.”

He added: “It was pleasing to get another clean sheet. It’s been great to have the skipper, Joe Atkinson, back. That’s made a massive difference in defence.

“I have got to give young Ben Jones credit too. I have brought him in slowly through the reserves over the last couple of seasons and he ha shown what he can do, playing centre half and right back as well. He has also had a game at left back and one well every time.”

Graves had special praise for veteran midfielder Michael Banister, saying: “I think Michael is playing his best football since he’s been with us.

“I probably did him a disservice last season and should have protected him a little bit more by resting him here and there.

“I didn’t and I hold my hands up for that.

“We had a bit of a spat and I left him out of the cup final and things like that. But he’s come back and proved himself. I have always said I would rather have him in the side than not.

“Obviously there are one or two other people around who say he’s not got the legs any more. But last couple of games, for his age, he has worked really, really hard.

“He does the dirty side off the game for us and breaks things up. He is a bit of an irritant to the opposition - and sometimes to me and his team mates! But I don’t want to take that away from him.

“I have been really pleased with him and he deserves a lot of credit. He is a great guy to have around.

“Last season I probably didn’t handle him as well as I should have done and should have given him the breaks earlier. When I did give him the breaks he thought I was punishing him and I wasn’t.”

Hucknall are aiming for a fifth league win on the trot at home to South Normanton on Saturday at an earlier kick-off time of 1.30pm.

“The league wanted us to play it Friday night at Normanton’s request as their squad are at a wedding at Manchester on Saturday night,” said Graves.

“We didn’t want another blank Saturday so we have compromised with a 1.30 kick-off.

“Normanton sides are usually set up to play football. It will be a tough game physically but they go normally play good football.

“I know a couple of their players and we know it won’t be easy. Hopefully we can do the business.”