This hotly anticipated tie between the league’s big boys Hucknall Town and current champions, Selston ended 2-2 after both sides gained and then submitted the lead over an absorbing 90 minutes.
Somewhat predictably, the tie opened in cagey fashion, neither side wanting to provide easy openings for their highly regarded opponents.
Selston’s talismanic midfielder Sean Gregory seemed subdued and Jordan Phillips in Hucknall’s midfield took advantage and he showed some excellent touches and composure in providing his side’s drive.
The early intention from Hucknall was to feed Leon Aikman up front who attempted to use his pace and power to gain advantage.
The first action of note came when Elliot Jones was fouled on the edge of the area and this presented Selston’s Carl Moore with an opportunity to trouble visiting keeper Michael Randall, however the striker’s shot was well over the bar.
Dominic Airey provided a great ball to Wayne Cooke but the Selston striker couldn’t find a decent cross.
There was little else on offer in terms of quality in a frantic first half hour, however on the half hour Airey lit into life with an excellent back heel, nutmegs on halfway to leave Elliot Pitt adrift in his wake.
The Selston winger then fed Cooke who put in a great cross across the six yard box but this just evaded Moore and Jones in the box with Randall stranded on his line.
Airey continued his single handed torment of Town and, after 36 minutes, he danced through several challenges until he found his way into the area where he fooled the hapless Pitt and fellow defender David Leak who both dived in at the fleet footed Selston man and he was sent tumbling.
However, to the disbelief of many watching the referee deemed no foul had been committed and waved play on.
Selston maintained the pressure for the next few minutes and Airey remained unplayable but no clear cut chances were created
As is so often the case, the team under the cosh break against the run of play and score and that’s exactly what Hucknall did. A quick release ball over the top wide right to Jamie Crawford fell into no man’s land, Selston keeper Jake Ball hesitated momentarily after deciding to come for the ball and Crawford lobbed into the far corner to snatch the lead for Hucknall right on half-time.
At the start of the second period Gregory joined Airey in tormenting the Town defence and within two minutes of the restart the Selston man had fooled Josh Henry into a foul in the box and this time the referee pointed to the spot.
Selston captain Ben Moore stroked the ball to Randall’s right to restore parity for the hosts. The hosts turned up the heat and had most of the play now, Gregory and Moore having greater influence on the game.
Chances were few and far between for either side despite the competition for the points, with both sides well aware that despite the early appearance of this fixture in the season this could well be crucial in the title race.
After 67 minutes the hosts pressure paid off when a ball down the left for Cooke who crossed to the far post to find Hucknall’s tormenter in chief Airey who headed hard into the ground, the ball ending up high in the net to the delight of the home fans as they celebrated their team’s second goal.
Town were stung into action and Selston failed to pull the sting, continuing to attack in numbers one moment and then playing deep in their own half the next, instead of seeing the game out. A period of play deep in their own half was the source of the home side’s undoing.
Matt Brian was the beneficiary of pressure applied by his side, when he gained the ball, he lobbed a good first time pass to Joe Ashurst who’s eventual shot was blocked at the expense of a corner.
The corner was fired in right under the cross bar, Selston stopper could only parry under pressure and the ball dropped kindly to Phillips who reacted quickest to smash home from two yards to level the tie.
The home side will feel hard done by due to the inexplicable penalty denial and overall play, but Town will feel they did enough to earn a point, neutrals will look forward to the rest of the season and the return fixture with interest.