Hinckley AFC 3-0 Hucknall Town

Hinckley AFC reached the United Counties League play-off final after a confident 3-0 win over Hucknall Town at Kirkby Road.

A club-record attendance of 502 watched on as a goal in each half from Ryan Harkin and one from Charlie Evans earned Hinckley a date with Belper United in next week’s final.

And it came against a Hucknall side who finished with nine men after a pair of red cards early in the second half. 

Courtney Belford made two changes to the Hinckley side that beat Blackstones last week. Tom Weale and Lewis Rankin both returned to the side.

And they had a golden chance to open the scoring inside 30 seconds when Evans was sent through on goal but Louis Kinnerley saved.

The visiting stopper then made a similar denial of Harkin five minutes in as Hinckley started the brighter.

Harkin then missed his kick from six yards and the visitors broke at pace, Grant Ryan’s shot blocked in their first real attack of note.

Kinnerley made a more comfortable save from Rankin on the quarter hour before Hinckley broke the deadlock just past the midway point of the half. From a cleverly worked corner routine, the loose ball fell to Harkin six yards out and he did the rest to put his side ahead.

That sparked the visitors into more life and they had their best spell of the game between then and the break. 

For their pressure, though, Matt Hill’s only save was from Ryan’s shot on the turn as Hinckley also dealt with dangerman Craig Westcarr.

The former Nottingham Forest man scored hat-tricks against Hinckley in both league fixtures but barely had a sniff as Hinckley marshalled him well.

The opening period of the second half was always going to be crucial and two goals and two red cards in the space of 15 action-packed minutes swung it dramatically Hinckley’s way.

Again, they had a chance within a minute when nobody met Drew Kear’s teasing cross, but when Jordan Phillips halted Evans’ run through on goal five minutes later, he was shown a second yellow card.

Hinckley were initially awarded a penalty, but the referee overturned that to a free kick after consulting with his assistant.

But two minutes later they had their second. Tom Weale’s inviting free kick only needed a glance, and that’s what it got from Harkin whose flicked header nestled inside the far post.

With that goal, Harkin became Hinckley’s leading scorer for the season but Evans soon restored parity on that particular chart with a precise low effort from 20 yards.

And when Cayne Maxwell, already on a booking, flew into a mistimed tackle on Weale, he joined Phillips back in the changing rooms and Hucknall were down to nine.

Now it was all about game management for Hinckley. Yellows substitute Matt Brian saw a diving header wide at the far post but that was their only shot at a comeback.

And Kinnerley made further fine saves to prevent a bigger Hinckley win, diving to save from Joe Cairns in a particularly smart stop, as well as preventing a Harkin hat-trick.

But three goals was a solid return for Belford’s side to progress to the final next week, when Belper United visit Kirkby Road.

Hinckley: Matt Hill, Drew Kear, Mikkel Hirst, Liam Cairns, Ben Whitehead, Ben Vallance, Harry Sawyer, Tom Weale (Tyson Knight 60 (Joe Cairns 68)), Ryan Harkin, Lewis Rankin (Jeremie Agholor 80), Charlie Evans. Subs not used: Ty Belford, Luke Wilson.

Goals: Ryan Harkin (28, 53), Charlie Evans (57)

Hucknall: Louis Kinnerley, Cayne Maxwell, Oliver Brown, Sam Sims, Aaron Short, Jordan Phillips, Jamie Crawford (Matt Brian 72), Michael Banister (Lenford Jenkins 60), Craig Westcarr, Grant Ryan (Aaron Lamb 63), Joe Ashurst. Sub not used: Jake Pearson

Attendance: 502

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