Late goals by James Jepson and Grant Ryan gave ten man Hinckley AFC a hard-fought 2-0 win at bottom side Littleton.
It wasn’t pretty, but AFC got back to winning ways after back-to-back defeats with a late show at Five Acres, in which it took 88 minutes for the game’s first goal.
With minutes left, it looked as though Hinckley would play out their first ever league goalless draw, having played most of the game with ten men after goalkeeper Adam Harrison was sent off in the first half.
But player/manager Jepson bent home a free kick to break the deadlock, before Ryan slotted home moments later to settle the game Hinckley’s way.
Jepson made three changes to his Hinckley side that was beaten by Cadbury Athletic last week. New signing Cameron Gilchrist made his debut at centre back, while Callum Willimont returned and Jepson brought himself back into the side.
And Hinckley came within inches of breaking the deadlock just eight minutes in. Had Ryan’s header from Tom Maddison’s cross dropped a fraction lower than striking the crossbar, AFC may have had a more comfortable afternoon.
But their lowly hosts battled tooth and nail, and came within a whisker themselves when Sam Beddoes fed Ryan Reeves, who crashed his shot against the bar.
Against a side who hadn’t yet picked up a league point, Hinckley had the greater share of the ball but struggled to create too many clear cut chances, and weren’t at their best.
Even so, they struck the woodwork again when Ryan latched onto a through ball and clipped the outside of the post as the two goals led a charmed life.
But the complexion of the game changed just after the half hour. Jordan Wilson went through on goal but was denied by Josh Rogers’ fine save, allowing Littleton to break straight away.
Beddoes found himself in a similar situation, but the striker’s touch took him towards the corner flag before he was brought down by goalkeeper Harrison just outside the box. Referee Ashley Devonport brandished red at the Hinckley ‘keeper and AFC had to play the best part of an hour with ten men.
It meant 16-year-old goalkeeper George Warren came off the bench for his first team debut, but looked assured in holding his first save shortly before the break.
He was called into action again just after it, diving to his right to cling on to Matt Irons’ strike from range.
But even with a numerical disadvantage, Hinckley still looked the more likely to break the deadlock and Ryan nodded wide from Jean Dakouri’s cross, before Maddison bent a free kick straight at Rogers.
Littleton, though, continued to battle and grew in belief that they could pick up their first point of the season. They should have taken the lead with 12 minutes to play, but Harry Jacobs scooped his effort over from close range when he should have converted a wide free kick.
And that proved crucial as the game entered its dying moments. With two minutes left, Hinckley were awarded a free kick 20 yards out and Jepson took the responsibility upon himself, bending it beyond Rogers’ reach to put his side ahead.
And in the final minute of normal time, the visitors secured the points. Wilson looked to be heading for the corner, but suddenly darted goalbound and danced past four challenges on a mazy run before squaring for Ryan to convert his 10th of the season from close range.
It’s often said that good teams win without playing well, but it’s the result that counts for AFC as they return to winning ways.
Littleton: Josh Rogers, Jai Masey, Will Middleton, Harry Jacobs, Sam Penfold, Joey Smith (Ben Nicholson 74), Ryan Reeves, Matt Irons, Sam Beddoes (Matt Magee 70), James Schembri, Sean Cooke. Subs not used: Luis Sone, James Keller, John Robinson
Hinckley: Adam Harrison, Callum Willimont (Chad Timson 78), Martin Hutchcox, Jean Dakouri, Cameron Gilchrist, Jason Lee, James Jepson, Sam Belcher (George Warren 34), Grant Ryan, Jordan Wilson, Tom Maddison (Matt Jelfs 66). Subs not used: Riley Bryant, Nkosi Mzungwana
Goals: James Jepson (88), Grant Ryan (90)