Bekir Halil’s winner three minutes from time secured a dramatic win for Hinckley AFC as they kickstarted Courtney Belford’s reign with a 2-1 win over Heath Hayes.
With the game goalless heading into the final ten minutes, it looked like AFC’s new season would start with a scoreless draw but the game burst into life when Curtis Townley put Hinckley ahead.
Kieron Nelson’s header brought the visitors level shortly afterwards, but Halil settled it with a third goal in nine minutes to give Hinckley the winning start to their new campaign.
Belford named eight debutants in the new-look AFC starting eleven, including Phil Smith in goal as Ty Belford missed out through injury.
One of them, Ky Green, had the first chance when he fired wide after the visitors failed to clear a long throw, but the opening stages were relatively quiet as both sides grew into the season.
But Hinckley grew stronger through the half, and came close midway through it when Halil fed Luke Delaney, who blazed over.
Then, Jake Healy’s neat skill fashioned him the space to flash across the face of goal where nobody could provide the decisive touch, before Alex Lock came closest of all when he beat visiting ‘keeper Joe Gilbert to the ball, only for the ball to roll agonizingly against the foot of the post.
But while Hinckley had gained the ascendancy by this point, Heath Hayes remained a threat and their best chance came on the stroke of half time when Aarron O’Neill got in behind the defence but shot tamely wide from the edge of the box.
The second half continued in a similar vein as Hinckley had the greater share of the play but were frustrated by a resolute visiting outfit, themselves under a new manager in Adam Robinson.
A minute into the half, Luke Richards’ fine pass picked out Lock who cut inside and saw a shot beaten away by Gilbert, before a good move involving Richards and Ryan Ball set up substitute Michael Wright, whose low shot was saved at full stretch.
As Hinckley came closer, Halil’s fine vision picked out Healy who cannoned a shot off the post and back off Gilbert for a corner.
But Heath Hayes still had their moments, and should have taken the lead from the resulting corner as a quick counter left Hinckley short of numbers at the back, but Rhys Horton fired badly wide in acres of space when he should have scored.
Six minutes later though, the deadlock was broken and it was Hinckley who provided the opening goal of the season. Delaney’s cross was mishit to Townley, whose strike was anything but mishit as he rocketed a strike into the roof of the net to leave Gilbert with no chance.
But the visitors’ resilience continued, and they hit back six minutes later when Ryan Kimberley’s deep cross was powered home by Nelson’s bullet header.
That was a sucker punch for Hinckley but Belford’s men dug deep and weren’t to be denied their opening day win, netting the decisive goal three minutes later. It was a little scrappy, but Halil pounced on a loose ball after pinball in the Heath Hayes box and slammed home to spark celebrations on the pitch and the terraces.
The visitors had one chance to salvage a point, but Horton was denied as Smith stood firm to secure Hinckley’s first win of their new era.
Hinckley: Phil Smith, George Brindley, Sam Reuben, Ryan Ball, Ky Green (Ashley Gray 55), Curtis Townley, Jake Healy, Bekir Halil, Luke Richards (Lewis Collins 73), Luke Delaney, Alex Lock (Michael Wright 63). Subs not used: Chad Timson, Sam Aldhouse
Goals: Curtis Townley (78), Bekir Halil (87)
Heath Hayes: Joe Gilbert, Ryan Kimberley, Josh Bates, Kieron Nelson, Harry Phillips, Todd Sherwood, Rhys Horton, Ryan Burns, Jason Holmes, Daniel Campbell (Dean Williams 60), Aarron O’Neill (Nawahl Thompson 86). Subs not used: Luke Holmes, Liam Pullar, Dan Evans
Goal: Kieron Nelson (84)