DELIGHTED manager Tommy Brookbanks has lavished praise on his willing Hucknall Town squad after they maintained their unexpectedly bright opening to the new season this week.
Even the club’s most lenient critics feared the worst when Hucknall embarked on the 2011/12 campaign by reverting to amateur status.
Rarely, if ever, had a club attempted to compete at a level as high as the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League without paying players.
But a 3-2 victory over Brookbanks’s former club, Carlton Town, was followed by a 1-1 draw at Grantham Town on Tuesday night (September 13) to leave The Yellows handily placed in the Division One South table.
In ten league and cup games so far this term, they have lost just twice and conceded only nine goals. One of the defeats came when they were reduced to ten men for 60 minutes.
“I am over the moon,” enthused Brookbanks.
“We could have been cannon fodder. It’s a big thing to take on not paying players at this level.
“But I am delighted with everyone in the dressing room.
“I would take four points against Grantham and Carlton every day of the week. Both are sides I expect to be in the top four at the end of the season.
“Two defeats in ten games? No-one can complain about that.
“I am just praying that our small squad stays fit. Not only can we not pay players but also we can’t bring in loan signings either because the normal arrangement would be for us to pay a percentage of that player’s wages.”
That squad was stretched for the trip to Grantham because one striker, Nick Ghislanzoni, was suspended and another, Kieren Watson, is unavailable for midweek matches because he works abroad.
Brookbanks responded by switching Nathan Watson from midfield to play in the hole behind frontman Grant Ryan.
And his team responded by collecting a valuable point against a Gingerbreads side who reached the promotion play-offs last season.
Indeed they might have bagged all three points but for a superb, bolt-out-of-the-blue equaliser in the 68th minute by Grantham substitute Paul Grimes, who thumped a 25-yarder into the top corner.
Hucknall had taken the lead on 15 minutes when midfielder Jared Holmes pounced after a shot from Watson had been parried by ‘keeper Rob Murray.
And they should have doubled it just before half-time when Watson raced clear for a one-on-one only to sky his shot high and wide after the ball had bobbled.
Grantham’s side included three ex-Yellows, defender Grant Brindley, midfielder Martin Ball and striker Tris Whitman, plus two others — defender Ali Asher and targetman Ben Saunders — on the substitutes’ bench.
Predictably they pressed hard in the second period but Brookbanks felt his side coped well.
“Grantham are a big unit,” he said. “They haven’t got the ball players or the talent that we have but their sheer force troubles people.
“On paper, they should definitely be up there in the table. But we dominated the first half and although they put pressure on in the second, they never troubled us, chances wise.
“The equaliser was a wonder strike and it was always going to take a goal like that to break down our defence.”
The Gingerbreads did have one last golden chance to snatch all three points but striker Rob Norris fluffed an attempted volley in front of goal.