Two late goals condemned ten man Hinckley AFC to defeat against Atherstone Town in an eventful game at St John’s Park.
After having the better of the first hour, the sending off of Mark Williams for a second booking changed the complexion of the game as AFC went from dominating to being put under pressure in the blink of an eye.
It was 1-1 at that stage after Ryan Seal cancelled out Alex Naughton’s early opener for the visitors, but although Paul Sullivan put Hinckley ahead, Naughton’s second and Ben Ashby’s stoppage time winner sparked jubilant scenes from the Adders at full time.
Carl Abbott made just one change to his side that beat Coventry Copsewood at the weekend, with Williams replacing JJ Melligan in midfield.
Abbott has previously lamented his side’s tendency to give away early goals too easily, and the same happened again in this one. AFC were denied strong shouts for a penalty at one end for a foul on Sean Williams, the Adders broke forward straight away and calamitous defending allowed Naughton a tap in.
But Hinckley were quickly into their stride, with Darious Darkin, Andy Westwood and Mark Williams taking control of the midfield battle. Ten minutes in, from Westwood’s through ball, Sean Williams’ clever early lob caught Tom McNulty off guard, but the visiting ‘keeper was relieved to see the ball drop narrowly over the bar.
Then, Williams cut inside from the left and beat two players before seeing his low drive saved, and Westwood curled one into the side netting from 20 yards as AFC sought a quick leveller.
At the other end, Whitcombe thwarted Naughton with a point blank save before Hinckley’s restored parity midway through the half. Sullivan, a thorn in Atherstone’s side all night, beat Ashley Albrighton on the outside and was hacked down on his entry into the box. Seal sent McNulty the wrong way from the spot to bag his 50th goal of the season.
With Hinckley level, real goalmouth chances started to dry up, though six minutes later McNulty could only parry Seal’s fierce drive back into the danger zone, but the ball wouldn’t sit for Williams and Atherstone cleared.
Atherstone’s only other real shot at goal of the first half came when Aaron O’Neil dragged wide of the near post, before Hinckley should have take the lead on the stroke of half time. Seal’s pinpoint left wing corner fell onto the head of Francino Francis, who headed over from six yards.
That was the first of three such occurrences and those misses would come back to haunt Hinckley later. In the first chance of the second half, Sullivan fired over after a sublime flick by Westwood as Hinckley resumed their dominance.
Francis then nodded Seal corners over the bar twice more as Hinckley sought the lead for the first time, before Williams clipped the outside of the post after latching onto Haydn Whitcombe’s goal kick.
In Atherstone’s first chance of the second half it was Naughton who was the threat again. From a quick free kick, the forward found himself in space on the edge of the box but he would have been disappointed in shooting straight at Whitcombe.
Then came the game defining moment on 59 minutes. Naughton fired an effort well over from 25 yards, but referee Andrew Ellis decided that Williams had fouled him and pulled play back. Williams’ second foul of the game saw him pick up his second booking and he was sent for an early bath.
That changed the complexion of the game, with Atherstone now sensing that AFC were there for the taking. It was Hinckley, though, who had the next chance – Javia Roberts was sent through on goal and had all the time in the world to pick his spot. He almost had too much time to think about where to place it, though, and could only fire straight at McNulty.
But then the Adders started to have more chances. Lee Butler gave the ball away to Naughton 25 yards out, but he blazed over. The referee again decided to pull play back for a foul, though, but Naughton’s resulting free kick was blocked.
Whitcombe then denied Ashby with a superb close range save to keep the scores level after Naughton and Sam Belcher were involved in setting him up.
But ten man Hinckley battled on, and came close to a goal of their own when Sullivan lofted onto the bar from an acute angle.
The game was now wide open and after James Williams had a header comfortably held, Atherstone broke and Naughton worked space but was denied by Whitcombe’s low save.
Just a minute later, Hinckley re-took the lead. Sullivan was through on goal when he was brought down by Christian Mullings in the box. Mullings escaped without a card, but Sullivan dusted himself down and put the resulting penalty into the bottom corner.
Then, Javia Roberts dragged wide of the far post as Hinckley tried to extend their lead, but Atherstone had the majority of the possession and territory in the latter stages as they tried to capitalise on their extra man.
They didn’t have too many chances, though, until the 86th minute when the referee pointed to the spot for a third time in the game. This time it was to the visitors’ benefit as Roberts brought down Ashby in the box, and Naughton’s well-placed spot kick levelled affairs again.
With AFC defending deep to try and protect what would have been a hard-earned point, Ashley Gray had a low strike fumbled by Whitcombe and Hinckley cleared, before Atherstone’s winner came seconds into stoppage time through Ashby’s strike into the top corner.
It was harsh on Hinckley, who had one final chance to salvage something from the game with a corner two minutes into time added on. Butler’s delivery was met by Sullivan, who glanced a near post effort goalbound but McNulty held on.
And that meant Atherstone held on to condemn Hinckley to their second home league defeat of the season.
Hinckley: Haydn Whitcombe, Javia Roberts, Lee Thomas (Chad Degville-Cross 79), Ryan Paddock (Lee Butler 46), Francino Francis, Andy Westwood, Mark Williams, Ryan Seal (James Williams 62), Sean Williams, Paul Sullivan, Darious Darkin. Subs not used: Leadun Dunlevy, Jack Hartopp
Goals: Ryan Seal (23 pen), Paul Sullivan (74 pen)
Atherstone: Tom McNulty, Ashley Albrighton (Josh Willis 50), Ashley Gray, Christian Mullings, Scott Goodby, Ben Steane (David Boal 84), Ben Ashby, Kyle Baxter, Alex Naughton, Sam Belcher, Aaron O’Neil (Kyle Turner 79). Subs not used: Louie O’Connor, Nic Gilks
Goals: Alex Naughton (2, 86 pen), Ben Ashby (90)