Second half goals from George Bowerman and Jake Healy earned Hinckley AFC a hard fought win at Uttoxeter Town.
After their FA Cup game on Saturday, Hinckley returned to league action knowing a win would lift them to fourth in the table, but were laboured in a goalless first half that culminated in Sean Williams having a penalty saved.
After the break, though, they were more assertive. Once Bowerman gave them the lead from the spot they never truly looked like dropping points, and Healy’s stunner from range secured all three points on a damp night in Staffordshire.
With injuries plaguing his squad – Sam Agar, James Williams, Richard Munday, Darious Darkin and Asa Wright all out – Carl Abbott handed debuts to Ben Rad and Steve Hart in his AFC side that saw five changes from Saturday.
Hart started brightly on debut, and could have had a goal just 34 seconds into his AFC career. Marcus Jackson fed him down the right channel but after cutting back, Hart flashed his effort past the post.
While there was no rain during play, the surface was greasy from the earlier weather. Hinckley saw plenty of the ball in the first half but for large spells it was in areas that wouldn’t hurt their hosts, who had the better of the chances. Jonno Atherton was denied by Haydn Whitcombe’s low save with just the ‘keeper to beat, before Kyle Esplin fired across the face of goal from a similar position in the left channel.
With chances coming at both ends, Bowerman’s effort was blocked after neat link up play with Hart, before the debutant hooked over after Isaac Cooper’s long throw was twice flicked on by Rad and Mitchell Tomlinson.
Uttoxeter then had their best spell of the game shortly before the half hour mark. Esplin threatened again with a fierce snapshot from the edge of the box which Whitcombe did well to parry, Joe Haines clearing before Atherton could race in.
Then, Liam Sowter was allowed to run 20 yards unchallenged into a shooting position, calling Whitcombe into action again with a deflected low effort.
But Hinckley responded with chances of their own. Alex Langridge was at full stretch to tip over from Cooper’s dipping long range strike, before Cooper and Williams both went close.
With both sides seeking a goal before the break, Dom Ward’s header for Uttoxeter was cleared off the line by a combination of Haines and Whitcombe, the hosts’ appeals for a penalty falling on deaf ears.
From the resulting corner, Hinckley broke forward three on three but Hart was too slow in finding Bowerman and in the end threaded Williams through on the other side, who was crowded out.
It was the home side who finished the stronger before the break, Atherton and Esplin again their biggest threats, but it was Hinckley who had the best chance in first half stoppage time. Bowerman broke forward, danced into the box and was tripped by Jason Cockshutt ten yards out. Williams’ took the spot kick but Langridge pulled off a full length dive to parry the ball onto the post and claw it away before it crossed the line.
Uttoxeter’s management felt aggrieved by the award of the first penalty, but they could have no complaints about a second spot kick being given five minutes after the break. Bowerman won it again, being sent to ground by a late flying tackle by Cockshutt’s replacement Lee Bagley. The striker wasn’t letting anyone else take the penalty this time, sending it beyond Langridge’s reach and into the corner to give his side the lead.
After that, Hinckley managed the game well and Uttoxeter’s chances were limited. Joel Dyche’s 20 yarder was comfortably held, and Lee Butler cleared off the line from a corner in the home side’s closest opportunity of the second period.
For Hinckley, Hart came close to a debut goal again when his fierce effort on the angle was beaten around the post by Langridge, before the visitors added more comfort to the scoreline with 12 minutes to play. It was a goal from nothing, as Healy picked the ball up 25 yards out and unleashed an unstoppable drive that found the top corner.
Uttoxeter’s only chance of finding a route back into the game came through Bagley, whose far post headed from Louis Sherwin’s free kick dropped narrowly wide.
Butler and Healy both had late free kicks that failed to trouble Langridge, as Hinckley were comfortable in the end with a win that lifts them to fourth.
Uttoxeter: Alex Langridge, Craig Swinfield, Jason Beardsley, Jason Cockshutt (Lee Bagley 46), Dom Ward, Joel Dyche, Ryan Metcalfe (Louis Sherwin 72), Liam Sowter, Gary Beardsley (Evan Richardson 62), Kyle Esplin, Jonno Atherton. Subs not used: George Woodroffe, Jake Avery
Hinckley: Haydn Whitcombe, Marcus Jackson, Isaac Cooper (Brad Rolston 72), Ben Rad, Joe Haines, Mitchell Tomlinson, Lee Butler, Lee Miveld, Steve Hart (Kyle Minto 85), George Bowerman (Jake Healy 65), Sean Williams. Sub not used: Zack Stretton
Goals: George Bowerman (50 pen), Jake Healy (78)