‘Toughest tie’ is prize for Hucknall after winning Vase thriller

Hucknall Town manager, Andy Graves.
Hucknall Town manager, Andy Graves.

Hucknall Town’s prize for their thrilling 3-2 FA Vase first round against Black Country Rangers on Saturday is a testing trip to powerful Midland Football League Premier Division outfit Sporting Khalsa.

The West Midlands club have just won nine on the bounce, sit five points behind leaders Ilkeston Town with two games in hand, and ply their trade two levels higher than Hucknall, who have now won 10 in a row.

Yellows boss Andy Graves saw his unbeaten side become the first side to beat Black Country last weekend and said: “Why not at Khalsa too?

“Look how many games we are unbeaten. We go into the tie much like Saturday when Black Country were unbeaten all season.

“Our reward is probably the toughest draw we could have had.

“I have been watching their progress over the last few years and it’s a side I would have liked to have avoided.

“It will be a tough game. They play on a 3G pitch but I don’t think that will faze us as we like to play football as we showed last Saturday.”

Hucknall saw an early lead overturned by the break in Saturday’s thriller and, when keeper Adam Jablonski was sent off early in the second half, hopes looked bleak.

But Hucknall battled back to level five minutes from time and then snatched a stoppage time penalty winner.

“It was a great performance, full of character,” said Graves.

“There was a lot of gamesmanship going on in the game and our lads coped with it well.

“I can’t say too much about the opposition as I am in the process of appealing against the red card when I hope sense will prevail.

“To be 2-1 down after a dubious penalty against us five minutes into the second half and go down to 10 men, the character was absolutely superb.

“Anyone who wanted clarification of our spirit and the togetherness of our squad, it was there for everyone to see on Saturday, and our supporters were absolutely superb.”

On the opposition’s antics, he added: “I was slightly disappointed in Black Country from what I had seen of them.

“If they had stuck to playing football it could have been even harder for us. But they didn’t. They came with a game plan to upset us and stop our rhythm.

“Ironically all their time-wasting came back to bite them as we scored the penalty in added time. You have to keep going until the very end, keep to your principles and don’t get frustrated.

“If some of them had been my players I would have been very embarrassed and they would probably have been fined by me.

“It was disappointing we got two players booked as well as we’d gone nine competitive games without even a caution.”

Hucknall face more cup action on Saturday when Collingham are the visitors in the Central Midlands League Cup.

“They are a very bright, young side and they will be a big test for us as well. We have the greatest respect for them,” said Graves.

“I watched them play Linby in the last round and they remind me very much of Matlock in our league.

“We want to keep the momentum going and winning is a good habit to have.

“We have a squad that everyone is buying into. I am rotating it each game and have players that are good enough no matter who I put in.”

Collingham certainly like playing on the road. They have lost both home games so far but away have won four and drawn one of their five outings.

Hucknall also host AFC Dunkirk on Wednesday in the Notts Senior Cup.

With Jablonski potentially suspended for three games and Mike Randall cup-tied for midweek, Graves has signed Luke Cook, who has played for Carlton Town, as back-up.