Hinckley AFC 4-3 Clifton All Whites

Hinckley AFC held off a second half comeback by a spirited Clifton All Whites to record an 11th straight win.

Hinckley were well on their way at the break after Ryan Harkin’s hat-trick and a debut Joe Cairns goal put them four up at half time for the third game running.

But what was to follow put their winning sequence into serious jeopardy, as Clifton scored twice in five minutes and again midway through the half.

It was a nervy finish for the 224 supporters inside Kirkby Road but Hinckley held out to extend their lead at the top back to six points.

The first half was a stop-start affair and only 30 seconds had passed when there was a seven-minute delay. Jack Edwards and Clifton skipper Sam Leggitt clashed heads in the middle of the park, with both needing lengthy treatment. Edwards was substituted, while Leggitt continued in a Terry Butcher-style bandage.

When play did get going, it was an entertaining watch between two sides looking to get the ball down and play.

Hinckley took the lead two minutes after the resumption of play, when Clifton allowed Tom Weale’s long throw to bounce and Harkin hooked home at the near post.

There was almost a carbon copy two minutes later, this time Ben Whitehead flicking his header onto the crossbar.

And Hinckley made their early dominance count after 17 minutes. Cairns, who came on for Edwards for his debut, finished off another Weale assist as the midfielder chased down a lost cause, beat two men and squared for Cairns to finish from eight yards.

Clifton then started to settle but, unlike Hinckley, didn’t take their first half chances. Josh Gardner flashed one across the face, Matt Hill made a smart save and Kieran Cummings had one deflected inches wide as Hinckley lived dangerously.

And Hinckley made them pay ten minutes minutes the break. Harkin looked to send Charlie Evans through on goal but his pass was handled, and Harkin sent Beau Watson the wrong way from the spot.

The end-to-end nature of the game continued. Hinckley’s number nine then went close to his second hat-trick in two games from Mikkel Hirst’s cross, and saw a fierce effort blocked after Joe Cairns had one beaten away by Watson.

But Harkin did grab the matchball in first half stoppage time. Evans and Cairns made good runs either side to create space but Harkin went alone, burying one into the corner for his third and Hinckley’s fourth.

It left Hinckley with a comfortable lead at the break, but what was to follow was considerably less so.

Three minutes into the half, Clifton had hope when Adam Khan rolled past Luke Wilson and smashed one into the corner.

It was the first time Hinckley had conceded from open play at Kirkby Road since moving back to the ground in mid-November.

But like the proverbial London bus, one quickly became two. Hill made a magnificent flying save, but from the corner Clifton recycled again and Gardner’s boot was the vital one in a goalmouth scramble as he made the net bulge.

The game was all the visitors’ now, with Gardner and Cummings going close again.

But Hinckley remained a threat on the break and could have put the game to bed. Joe Cairns was denied by Watson after a clever set piece, before Evans’ good work down the left created a chance for Dom Alleyne but the substitute sliced wide from close range.

And that miss looked crucial three minutes later when a right wing cross was deflected between ‘keeper and back line, and Khan got there first to flick past Hill for his side’s third.

While Hinckley never looked overly comfortable, Clifton’s only chance at an equaliser came when substitute Sam Burrows headed wide from a corner.

But however unconvincing in the second half, Hinckley held on for an 11th consecutive win.

Hinckley: Matt Hill, Ben Whitehead, Ben Vallance, Liam Cairns, Luke Wilson (Tyson Knight 82), Jack Edwards (Joe Cairns 8), Harry Sawyer, Tom Weale, Ryan Harkin (Dom Alleyne 69), Charlie Evans, Mikkel Hirst. Subs not used: Nick Brandish, Lewis Rankin

Goals: Ryan Harkin (10, 34, 45+4), Joe Cairns (17)

Clifton: Beau Watson, Mahzi Simmonds, David Chapman, Sam Leggitt, Rasharn Altaff (Sam Burrows 39), Ryan Grace (Connor Deakin 84), Josh Gardner, Seke Spence, Kieran Cummings, Ricco Spencer, Adam Khan. Subs not used: Calrick Dunkley, Louis Howard

Goals: Adam Khan (48, 76), Josh Gardner (52)

Attendance: 224

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