Hinckley AFC maintained their impressive recent run with a 5-1 win over Smethwick Rangers.
It’s now six league wins on the bounce for AFC and nine in the last 10 games in all competitions – with this one secured by half-time after four goals in the first 45 minutes.
Lewis Rankin’s brace of penalties added to goals from Jack Edwards, Matt Dawson and Brady Middleton as AFC maintained their lead at the top of Division One.
Hinckley handed a debut to new signing Charlie Swingwood at the back – fellow new boy, the returning Harry Sawyer, came on as a half-time substitute – and the hosts were quickly into their stride as Rankin shot straight at Harold Edjangue when well-placed inside two minutes.
Smethwick’s closest chance of the half came immediately afterwards when Jake Allen’s free-kick from deep caught on the gusty wind and bounced off the top of the bar, Ky Green’s fine clearance denying the visitors a rebound.
That was evidence that the conditions wouldn’t make it a straightforward afternoon, but Hinckley negated the gusts as they moved the ball around well on the 3G surface.
The first two goals came from free-kicks – 10 minutes in, Rankin swung in a set-piece that Smethwick’s Jake Lamb could only glance into the path of Edwards to stab home from six yards.
That was Hinckley’s 100th goal of the season – and more would quickly follow. The 101st came in slightly bizarre circumstances five minutes later. Jevani Robinson was off the field for treatment and ran back on before being waved on by the referee. He was booked and Hinckley awarded an indirect free-kick which Charlie Aston could only head as far as Dawson – who took a touch and slammed a finish into the far corner.
It was three soon after – Edwards was brought down by Youssef Elzahari in the box and Rankin converted the spot kick.
AFC had the ball in the net again soon after but Green’s goalbound header struck the offside Middleton on the line – and Middleton then went close again when he bent one just wide after a neat turn before then being denied by Edjangue.
It was fourth time lucky for the leading scorer on the stroke of half time when he received Danny Fraser’s header, held off his man and dragged a precise finish into the bottom corner.
That rounded off a good half from AFC but they were slow starting the second period and Smethwick punished them when Robinson got to the byline and delivered a cross for R’marni Reid-Miller to lash home.
Much of the second half was played at a pedestrian pace but Hinckley quickly restored their four-goal advantage, a second penalty of the day for Rankin after Middleton was bundled over in the box.
After that, only two smart Edjangue saves prevented further goals, firstly pushing Joe Cairns’ effort onto the post before tipping over what would have been an own goal following Danny Fraser’s cross.
Not that it mattered for Hinckley, who remain top ahead of next week’s trip to fifth-placed OJM Black Country.
Hinckley: Matt Hill, Jack Beasley (Harry Sawyer 46), Danny Fraser, Preston Bitemo (Zaki Evans 70), Ky Green, Charlie Swingwood, Matt Dawson, Declan Somel (Harry Walker-Donovan 82), Brady Middleton (Joe Cairns 64), Jack Edwards (Deshon Carty 77), Lewis Rankin.
Goals: Jack Edwards (10), Matt Dawson (15), Lewis Rankin (24 pen, 64 pen), Brady Middleton (45)
Smethwick: Harold Edjangue, Dylan Green, Jevani Robinson, Charlie Aston, Youssef Elazhari, Jake Lamb, Tivon Henry (Kenji Camara 70), Jake Allen, James Webster, R’marni Reid-Miller, Tabari Maxwell.
Goal: R’marni Reid-Miller (50)