Hinckley AFC’s 11-match winning run came to an end but their 12-match unbeaten run goes on after a pulsating 1-1 draw with Bilston Town.
Matt Dawson’s goal with 20 minutes to play looked to have given AFC their victory but Bilston hit back through Mitchell Evans’ free kick – the first goal Hinckley conceded in more than ten hours.
And though both sides came close to a winner, they had to settle for a point apiece and while a fair result, it was one that both sides wanted more from. Bilston’s outside chance of making the play-offs is now mathematically over, while Hinckley lost their grip on second place.
Hinckley’s bigger concern, though, will be over injuries that forced Sam Walton, Chandler Pegg and Danny Fraser from the pitch – the latter’s coming after Hinckley had already used all five substitutes, meaning they had to play the final 15 minutes with ten men.
The game started off slower than it ended – Pegg dragged wide of the far post while Jac Redhead diverted Dawson’s cross wide, either side of the visitors seeing Lewis Archer fire wide after a quick counter.
Bilston grew stronger as the half wore on but the sides continued to exchange chances. Pegg’s replacement Lewis Collins had a shot on the turn beaten away and Redhead had one cleared off the line after a clever corner routine.
But the visitors had the better of the opportunities, both through their leading scorer Dan Westwood who spooned a free header into Brandon Bache’s arms before being denied by the ‘keeper when one-on-one with the last kick of the half.
The second period was played at a greater tempo and Hinckley upped the ante. Jack Beasley headed over before AFC thought they’d won a penalty on the hour. Isa Abraham was fouled inside the box and the referee blew for a foul. The assistant walked to the goalline in anticipation of a penalty, only for the referee to award a free kick instead and not consult his better-placed colleague.
But with 20 minutes to play came the breakthrough, as Dawson’s surging run saw him beat a man and drill a low shot beyond Kai Lloyd.
Tom Weale then struck just over and Jack Edwards prodded narrowly wide after an intricate move, before the visitors levelled with 11 minutes left when Evans’ wide free kick sailed directly inside the far post.
By this stage, Bilston were leaving three men up front in an attempt to secure the win that would keep their top five hopes alive – especially with Hinckley a man down after Fraser was carried off.
And it led to a basketball-style finale with both sides throwing everything at it. Aaron Weston’s free kick was held by Bache, who booted the ball straight up field where the onrushing Lloyd just beat Collins to a bouncing ball.
Collons then ran through on goal but was denied by a tight offside call, Lloyd kicked away from Redhead and Collins had one deflected over the bar, to which the referee awarded a goal kick and Bilston’s immediate attack saw Archer inches away from winning it on the far post.
It was a thrilling end to a good game of football, and though both sides could have won it, it was a game neither truly deserved to lose.
Hinckley: Brandon Bache, Matt Dawson, Danny Fraser, Sam Ellis (Jack Edwards 46), Sam Walton (Harry Walker-Donovan 72), Jack Beasley, Lewis Rankin (Tom Weale 61), Robbie Bunn, Chandler Pegg (Lewis Collins 32), Jac Redhead, Isa Abraham (Joe Obi 61).
Goal: Matt Dawson (69)
Bilston: Kai Lloyd, Jordan Smith-Williams, Aaron Weston, Mitchell Evans, Haydn Hall (Taryll Davis 25), Jake Short, Ethan Pearce, Angelo Franco (Harvey Evans 85), Dan Westwood (Soms Sibanda 78), Eesa Sawyers, Lewis Archer. Sub not used: Trayvon Powell.
Goal: Mitchell Evans (78)