10 moments that defined our season

After lifting the Midland League Division One title, we’ve picked out 10 moments that defined our campaign which went some way to confirming our place as champions.

From August to April, these are 10 of the most key moments throughout our league season that ensured our place at step five come next season.

1. Holding on against Droitwich – 5th August

After letting slip a 3-1 lead at home to Droitwich to draw in the play-off semi-final, losing on penalties, the Midland League had a bit of fun by putting a repeat of that game on the opening day of the new season. So when, just three months afterwards, Spa scored twice in quick succession to come from 3-0 down to ensure another nervy finish, a sense of deja-vu hung in the Kirkby Road air. This time, though, AFC clung on to start the new campaign with a win and gain an immediate three-point advantage over a team many felt would be competing towards the top again.

Joe McNulty blocks Charlie Tilley’s shot late in our opening-day win over Droitwich Spa. Picture: Mathew Mason

2. Brandon Bache’s penalty save at Bilston – 12th August

At 3-0 up away to another team fancied to compete towards the top, all was looking rosy as AFC looked to bounce back from midweek defeat to Heather. But after ex-Hinckley defender Ben Kendrick pulled one back for Bilston, they were awarded a penalty late on. Ensuring there was no nervy finish, Bache flung himself to his left to keep out Jake Short’s spot kick and Hinckley rode out the remainder of the game with relative comfort.

3. Coming from behind in the heat at Wednesfield – 9th September

A year earlier, almost to the day, Hinckley went down with a whimper at Amos Lane, barely mustering a shot on target in a 1-0 defeat. Fast forward 12 months, and increase the temperature by 20 degrees or so, and a come-from-behind victory was a measure of progress in that timespan. Matt Dawson and Tom Weale scored either side of half-time to earn the win and a strong defensive performance meant young ‘keeper Finn Osborn was rarely tested.

4. Grinding it out at Shawbury – 18th November

The best teams, as the cliche goes, find a way to win when not at their best. That was the case in Shropshire, as Hinckley ground out a scrappy win courtesy of Brady Middleton’s early goal. A clean sheet here against a Shawbury side soon to go on a surging run up the table would prove vital as the season progressed.

5. The late, late show, featuring Matt Dawson and Riley Davoile – November/December

Another hallmark of promotion-winning sides is the ability to secure points deep into stoppage time. AFC managed that twice in the space of four weeks in the run-up to Christmas, as first Dawson’s late winner at Bridgnorth, and then Riley Davoile’s last-gasp heroics against Wolves Sporting earned four points between them that helped open up a gap at the top.

6. Festive away wins – December

Hinckley’s Achilles in years gone by has been a tendency to drop points against good sides on sticky pitches. So when the fixture computer coughed up trips to play-off chasing duo OJM Black Country and Ingles inside 10 days either side of Christmas, that felt like an examination of this season’s title credentials. A pair of wins, each with two goals and a clean sheet, continued a defining 13-match unbeaten run and each felt like important steps on the journey.

Isa Abraham adds a second goal in our Boxing Day win at Ingles. Picture: Betty Marie

7. The Stapenhill double-header – 9th and 16th March

Hinckley had a two-week break from the league after a comfortable defeat to OJM Black Country that meant the West Midlands side kept in with a shout of catching AFC at the top. Up next were back-to-back games against Stapenhill, as a 4-0 win at home, helped by some smart Bache saves and clinical finishing, was followed up by a 1-1 draw in the away game. Joe Conneely felt at the time that it was a good point, and so it proved the following week…

Lewis Rankin celebrates his goal that earned a draw away to Stapenhill. Picture: Dave Birt

8. The late, late show 2 at Droitwich – 23rd March

With eight minutes to play, Hinckley were staring at defeat and that would have meant Droitwich being able to catch them had they won their games in hand. Cue Harry Walker-Donovan equalising with a slightly fortuitous goal, and then Dec Somel smashed home on the line after Dawson’s shot had been deflected to spark wild scenes from players and fans alike. A dramatic, quick, late turnaround which meant AFC opened up a 15-point gap over Droitwich, whose three games in hand were never likely to be enough.

Big celebrations after our late winner at Droitwich. Picture: Mathew Mason

9. The one where Chandler puts the ball in the net – 6th April

Chandler Pegg’s last goal had been away to Bilston in August, with a knee injury suffered the following week keeping him out until the Easter weekend. The following week, he was thrown on with 15 minutes to play away to Heather St John’s with Hinckley knowing that Droitwich were losing, and as such a win would send Hinckley up. Walker-Donovan’s magnificent piece of skill got him away from his man, and he squared for Pegg to score his first goal in eight months – and it was the one that confirmed we could not be caught at the top.

Chandler Pegg wheels away in celebration after his late winner at Heather St John’s. Picture: Clive Stapleton

10. A celebratory final home game – 13th April

With promotion secured, it was party time for our final home game of the season against Bilston. Weale, Rankin and Davoile (2) earned a good win before the trophy lift took place after the game in front of a club-record crowd for a regular league match of more than 400. A magnificent way to end a magnificent season.

Danny Fraser and Dave Gunn lift the Midland League Division One title. Picture: Jamie Measom