Hinckley AFC fell narrowly short of their second trophy in two years as Alvechurch completed the Midland League double with a 2-1 win at the Bescot Stadium.
In what was a cracking spectacle throughout, Division One Hinckley can hold their heads high despite defeat as Church added the League Cup to their Premier Division title.
On their first trip to a Football League ground, and in front of an impressive crowd of 628, Hinckley shaded the first half chances and arguably had any of Javia Roberts, Paul Sullivan or Lee Butler given AFC the lead, it could have changed the complexion of the game.
But as it was, the sides went in goalless at the break and Josh March’s second half brace set Alvechurch on their way. Francino Francis pulled one back for Hinckley late on, but they couldn’t force home an equaliser.
After more than two weeks off, Carl Abbott’s side returned to the pitch for arguably their toughest game of the season and made two changes to the side that beat Heath Hayes in their final league game. Mark Williams and Peter Williams were unavailable, with Chad Degville-Cross returning alongside Butler.
Some sharp pre-match showers had slickened the already impressive surface and that suited the football both sides looked to play. Just five minutes had passed when Hinckley had the first chance. James Williams rose highest from a right wing corner and saw his looping header tipped over by Ryan Price.
But Alvechurch, as champions of the league above Hinckley, had more of the play in the opening stages and moved the ball neatly. March had a speculative strike blocked as Church sought an early opener.
The same player was then denied by a stunning Haydn Whitcombe save to keep the scores level. It was Alvechurch’s best chance of the half as the winger ghosted in behind to latch onto a lofted through ball and flick a deft header goalbound. It looped over Whitcombe and was destined for the net until the retreating ‘keeper got a strong hand to the ball and tipped it around the post.
The resulting corner was half cleared to Tom Turton, whose teasing cross was headed over by Jamie Willetts.
Having held out for the opening 20 minutes, AFC then started to come into their own and from then on had the better of the first half chances. On 26 minutes, Roberts had acres of space to run into and after he cut inside from the left, he struck a 25 yard effort narrowly wide of Price’s right hand post.
And less than a minute later, Price was called into action to deny Sullivan. The striker’s superb feet saw him dance past two defenders but the ‘keeper denied him at the near post.
Hinckley needed to score while they were on top, and Sullivan continued to exploit a high line by finding space in behind the Alvechuch defence. First, he pulled back for Butler to shoot straight at Price when Seal was awaiting a cut-back, before dragging an effort of his own wide of the far post as Hinckley caused problems for their higher level opposition.
But Abbott’s side couldn’t find an opener and they had to be resolute at the back as Alvechurch finished the half the stronger. Zak Foster’s powerful low strike was beaten away by Whitcombe and David Bellis volleyed over via a deflection at the far post.
The final chance of the half also fell Church’s way as a clever corner routine found Jack Cresswell on the edge of the box, his curling effort pushed wide by Whitcombe.
It was an action packed first half that gave the impressive crowd their money’s worth, but the start of the second was more sedate as both sides settled down after the re-start. It was the 58th minute before either side had a real sight of goal, which fell Hinckley’s way as Butler curled a 25 yard free kick over.
Alvechurch, though, showed why they were champions and weren’t to pass up their next opportunity. They took control for the next 20 minutes and scored the opener shortly after the hour mark. Hinckley half-cleared a corner back out to the left wing, and March powerfully attacked the resulting delivery, heading home at the far post.
Then, Danny Dubidat’s snapshot ran across the face of goal without troubling Whitcombe as Alvechurch sought the second that would put them in control.
And, after Price denied Sullivan with a fine save, tipping around the post after super football between Sullivan and Roberts, Alvechurch did find that second goal. It came from Hinckley’s defensive error as they failed to deal with a left wing free kick and left March in space six yards out. The winger had time to control before slamming over the advancing Whitcombe and into the roof of the net to double Alvechurch’s lead.
As the game entered the final 15 minutes, only the post kept Hinckley in with a shout. Alvechurch broke forward at pace and substitute Mike Wardle’s cross ran across the face of goal. Foster met it at the far post and prodded goalbound, and the ball bounced onto the post before Butler hoofed clear.
Abbott introduced Darious Darkin and Isaac Cooper from the bench in an attempt to get back into the game, and both had an impact late on. Hinckley were desperate to give their audible following something to shout about and for the final ten minutes threw everything at Alvechurch to try and salvage something from the game.
They should have halved the deficit with five minutes to go but after great work by Cooper, Roberts side-footed wide of an open goal from six yards when it was easier to score.
As it was, the deficit was halved just two minutes later. Cooper was involved again, this time cutting back onto his right foot and delivering to the near post where Francis prodded home from six yards to give Hinckley hope.
For the final three minutes of normal time and four minutes of stoppages, Hinckley gave their all but Alvechurch defended manfully and didn’t give their opponents a sight of goal.
And in the end, the Premier Division champions also became League Cup champions as Alvechurch lifted the trophy in front of their jubilant supporters.
Alvechurch: Ryan Price, Jamie Ashmore, Zak Foster, Tom Turton, Andrew Parsons, Jamie Willetts, David Bellis, Jack Cresswell (Babucar Sauane 70), Danny Dubidat, Connor Deards (Mike Wardle 64), Josh March (Ryan Winwood 82). Subs not used: Mark Smith, Ryan Edmunds
Goals: Josh March (62, 73)
Hinckley: Haydn Whitcombe, Chad Degville-Cross (Darious Darkin 70), Lee Thomas, James Williams, Francino Francis, Andy Westwood, Lee Butler (Tom McCrystal 86), Ryan Seal, Javia Roberts, Paul Sullivan (Isaac Cooper 79), Sean Williams. Subs not used: Lewis Riley, Leadun Dunlevy
Goal: Francino Francis (87)