With relegation worries no longer an issue Alfreton Town were able to produce a relaxed performance as they brought the curtain down on a turbulent 2016/17 season at the lmpact Arena on Saturday, drawing 3-3 with Nuneaton Town.
Manager Russ O’Neill has not only had to contend with an ever increasing injury list over the past few weeks, but had the added problem of key defender Jordan Richards being recalled by parent club Hartlepool.
Wes Atkinson took over at right-back, which allowed Academy skipper Ellis Evans to make a competent first start at home in midfield, and there was also a debut for Nottingham Forest’s under-23 keeper Jordan Wright, whilst Oli Cox also appeared in a Reds’ shirt for the first time following a second half injury to makeshift central defender Ryan Wilson.
With nothing at stake both sides might have been forgiven for playing out a dull end-of-season affair, but the game itself was full of attacking flair that included a hat-trick for Liam Hearn and a penalty save by Wright.
Alfreton were first on the offensive with Craig Westcarr taking a return pass from Hearn in the 12th minute, only for Kelvin Langmead to block his shot, then a low drive from Andy Monkhouse was held by visiting keeper Elliott Taylor.
Wright beat out a volley from Ashley Chambers with a degree of confidence as Nuneaton responded, but Alfreton edged ahead in the 19th minute when Westcarr played Hearn through for a composed finish as he slotted the ball past Taylor from eight yards.
However the lead was short-lived, as seven minutes later former Reds’ midfielder Brad Gascoigne powered home a header from a Jordan Nicholson cross.
Ryan Richmond fluffed a golden opportunity to give Nuneaton the lead, then Wright turned behind a venomous Tom Elliott free-kick before they did achieve their aim on 36 minutes, Chambers drilling the ball past Wright from the edge of the area in receipt of a Greg Mills cross.
ln the shadow of the interval Paul Marshall twice had efforts blocked, but Alfreton only had to wait until the 55th minute to restore parity, Hearn steering home a loose ball from seven yards after Atkinson’s shot had been partially blocked.
Taylor needed to save efforts from Monkhouse and Evans, but at the midpoint of the second half Chambers was sent free to put Nuneaton 3-2 ahead with an accomplished finish.
The hosts looked to be facing certain defeat six minutes from time after Niall Heaton unfortunately clipped Mills as he cut along the bye-line, but Wright came to the rescue with a superb save from Elliott’s spot-kick.
Not for the first time this season the Reds popped up with a stoppage time equaliser, Hearn completing his hat-trick with a predatory swoop from close range after Westcarr’s shot had been blocked on the line.
Even so late in the game Chambers managed to find the back of the net for a third time, but referee Martyn Rawcliffe had spotted the striker impeding Cox in the build-up and ruled out the goal.
ALFRETON: Wright; Atkinson, Wilson [Cox 52], Heaton, McFadzean, Evans, Marshall, Allan (Clayton 83), Monkhouse, Westcarr, Hearn.
UNUSED SUB: Spiess.
NUNEATON: Taylor; Elliott, Penny, Scott, Langmead, Gascoigne, Mills (Jones 89), Tweed (Wheatley 73), Chambers, Richmond (Gould 60), Nicholson.
UNUSED SUB: Geohaghon, Belford.
REF: Martyn Rawcliffe.