Hinckley AFC were crowned Midland League Cup winners after a goal late in each half earned a 2-0 win over higher-level Whitchurch Alport.
In front of a bumper 700 crowd at Walsall’s Bescot Stadium, Division One Hinckley overcame their Premier Division opponents to end 2022/23 with silverware.
Isa Abraham’s opener set Hinckley on their way before Adam Barber’s first for the club could barely have come at a better time, as his 93rd minute finish sealed the win that ensured the trophy comes back to Leicestershire.
It was just reward for Hinckley and manager Joe Conneely, whose major rebuild after losing 13 players last summer now has tangible reward.
Abraham’s return to fitness after a hamstring problem was a boost for Hinckley but they struggled to create openings in the first half.
It was a half with little goalmouth action as both sides gave the ball away more often than their management teams would have liked – and Alport had its two best chances.
Both fell to their leading scorer Alex Hughes, who first caught Hinckley on the ball and forced a fine save from Brandon Bache, before striking the bar with a fierce free-kick that left the ‘keeper rooted to the spot.
Danny Fraser, who had a superb game on the left, then denied Sam Phillips with a flying block after Hughes’ set-up.
And after Abraham curled one over the bar with Hinckley’s first shot, AFC caught their opponents with a sucker punch on the stroke of half time. Jack Edwards was involved in the build up that led to Lewis Rankin having a shot blocked – but the ball fell back to him and he fed Abraham to fire home a low shot.
That led to a more open second half and Hinckley were indebted to Harry Walker-Donovan’s goalline clearance from Phillips, before AFC broke quickly and Rankin’s shot was scuffed straight at Jack Sheward.
And you started to wonder whether it might be AFC’s day when Whitchurch rattled the bar for a second time through Nicky Parker’s angled strike – this one tipped onto the woodwork by Bache’s superb save.
As Hinckley grew in confidence, they started to come closer in the final 20 minutes while defending well to restrict Alport to mostly long-range efforts.
Sheward saved from Abraham before Hinckley thought they’d added a second when Rankin attempted to flick Matt Dawson’s long clearance home, but missed it after Sheward ran into him. The ball trickled home, but the referee awarded Sheward a free kick much to Hinckley’s confusion.
Not that it mattered, because they did wrap the game up in stoppage time. Lewis Collins did superbly to win a long clearance, and fed fellow substitute Barber who fired home a first-time strike in off the post to spark wild celebrations from Hinckley’s players, dugout and fans.
They could have added another late on but Sheward’s outstretched left hand denied Collins a third.
But that came only a minute before the final whistle, as Hinckley saw the game out to become a rare step six winner of the tournament that involved 20 higher level teams.
And as the trophy was raised in front of the superb travelling support, it was lifted not by captain Rankin, but handed to Dave Gunn who has been with the club since day one and remains a valued member of the backroom staff.
It was Hinckley’s first trophy for seven years, and a night that will live long in the memory for everyone present to complete another season.
Hinckley: Brandon Bache, Matt Dawson, Danny Fraser, Harry Walker-Donovan, Joe McNulty, Jack Beasley, Lewis Rankin (Adam Barber 85), Tom Weale (Josh Clews 69), Chandler Pegg (Lewis Collins 61), Jack Edwards (Sam Ellis 90), Isa Abraham. Sub not used: Ky Green.
Goals: Isa Abraham (44), Adam Barber (93)
Whitchurch: Jack Sheward, Lyndon Campbell (George Carpenter 72), Kieran Evans, Sean Griffiths (Sam Yeardley 85), Aaron Simms, Richie Sutton, Jordan Evans, Junior Brown, Nicky Parker (Joe Flory 85), Sam Phillips (Dan Skelton 63), Alex Hughes. Subs not used: Joe Care.