Steve Hart’s winner three minutes into stoppage time grabbed a last gasp three points on derby day for Hinckley AFC.
On a bitterly cold afternoon against local rivals Nuneaton Griff, Hart popped up with virtually the last action of the game to prod home the winner and spark jubilant scenes of celebration from Hinckley’s players and fans alike.
It was arguably harsh on the hosts, who battled valiantly and restricted Hinckley’s chances after Luke Richards had cancelled out Jack Colley’s first half opener.
But Richards and Hart were clinical, each taking their only real chance of the game to ensure Dale Belford’s side recorded a seventh straight win.
Hinckley made just one change to the side that beat Deeping Rangers in the FA Vase last week. New signing Harry Harris, who joined from Romulus in the week, replaced Jake Healy.
Hinckley, though, weren’t at their best and indeed it was the relegation threatened hosts who started the brighter. Just three minutes had passed when George Brindley, in space at the far post, had an effort blocked by Richard Lavery.
Hinckley’s defending was similarly slack from the resulting corner, which was blocked on the line.
As Hinckley tried to gain a foothold, Lavery won an aerial battle from a free kick onto which Dominic Perkins couldn’t capitalise, before the opener came on the quarter hour mark.
Hinckley will feel it was they who should have netted it, or at least had the chance to. It looked as though Bekir Halil was felled in the box, but the referee awarded only a free kick on the edge and Harris’ set piece was comfortably held by Carl O’Neill.
With Hinckley still seething that a penalty wasn’t given, Griff went straight up the other end and Colley was sent through on goal, coolly slotting his side in front with a neat finish when one-on-one.
Going behind didn’t spark Hinckley into gear, and the hosts retained the upper hand. Lewis Cummins found space down the right to drive into the box, but he opted to go alone instead of squaring to Brindley and Ty Belford denied him at the near post.
Then, Colley somehow failed to double his tally for the afternoon, skying over the bar from a yard out after Cummins found acres of space down the left to cross.
As the half meandered to a conclusion, Richards prodded wide from the edge of the box in Hinckley’s first sight of goal and Lavery headed wide at the far post from Isaac Cooper’s recycled cross.
But Griff will feel they should have gone in more than one goal ahead. Their final chance of the half came when Brindley headed wide at the far post as Cummins’ deflected shot flew his way.
Hinckley would have known they would need to improve after the break if they were to take something from the game, and the message clearly got through. They were level inside two minutes.
Hart’s well weighted ball down the line was met by Richards, whose persistence and endeavour saw him outmuscle Frazer Mullis and bare down on goal from the left, coolly side footing home the equaliser.
Hinckley had the better of the possession and territory in the second half, but Nuneaton battled and defended well to keep Hinckley’s chance to a minimum.
Indeed, their only real sight from open play came when neat football down the right led to Marcus Jackson squaring for Richards. The striker was 20 yards out looking to double his tally, but the ball bobbled as he shot and he could only sky comfortably over.
But O’Neill was rarely called into action in the final half hour. Hinckley introduced Josh Willis and Kevin Thornton in the hope of turning the scoreline their way, but Griff remained resolute.
And it looked as though the sides would have to settle for a draw – until the 93rd minute.
A lofted ball in behind the defence gave Hart half a chance, and he lofted past the advancing O’Neill from a narrow angle with the outside of his left foot to spark celebrations from the players in the corner and the fans on the side.
Griff didn’t have the opportunity for a chance of their own after that, as Hinckley left it late for their seventh win on the bounce.
Nuneaton: Carl O’Neill, Ryan Aston, Adam Davies, Chris Mitchell, Ryan Millerchip, Frazer Mullis, Jack Colley, Ryan Ball (Ryan Slinn 77), Lewis Cummins, Luke Delaney, George Brindley. Subs not used: Brennan Howe, Henry Harris, Reece Williams, Karl Frankham
Goal: Jack Colley (16)
Hinckley: Ty Belford, James Williams, Dominic Perkins, Harry Harris (Kevin Thornton 77), Richard Lavery, Asa Wright (Josh Willis 60), Isaac Cooper, Bekir Halil, Luke Richards, Steve Hart, Marcus Jackson. Subs not used: Jack Sutherland, Jamie Hall, Mitchell Tomlinson
Goals: Luke Richards (47), Steve Hart (93)