Huntingdon Town really did look like a team blowing off the cobwebs last Saturday.
Jimmy Brattan’s side collected victory in their first outing of 2018 although the manner in which they shrugged off strugglers Oakham United at Jubilee Park left plenty to be desired.
The final 4-2 scoreline does little to explain the difficulty Town had in closing out what should have been a smooth success against lowly opponents reduced to 10 men just before half-time.
A hat-trick for Huntingdon striker Corey Kingston was the highlight of a match which won’t live long in the memory, but it wasn’t until he completed his treble deep into second-half stoppage time that Town could finally breathe easily.
Boss Brattan was disappointed with a lack of ruthlessness and quality in the final third as his side dominated the opening half. He was then disappointed with just about everything they did in the second half!
But it was, nevertheless, a valuable three points which lifted Town back into the top half of the standings – and winning games of football is what this business is all about.
Huntingdon have now done that 11 times this season in United Counties League Division One and that represents pleasing progress after two torrid, rock-bottom seasons at Premier Division level which featured only two wins apiece.
Kingston could – and probably should – have put Huntingdon ahead in the opening minute last Saturday when steering a Glenn Spearink cross against an upright.
The provider of that chance was also the provider of Town’s opening goal when converting a Chris Down cross in the 14th minute, but Spearink was soon back to being their supply line when delivering a glorious cross into the path of Kingston only for the frontman to fail to find a killer finish.
Town were pegged back by the struggling visitors - managed by Ryan Hunnings, who was joint boss at Huntingdon with Brattan earlier in the season - soon after, but they quickly responded as Kingston raced into the box before slotting coolly into the corner.
Spearink blazed over another inviting opportunity before Kingston extended the lead five minutes before the break when burying a Down pass. Down had only been denied a terrific individual goal of his own by a last-ditch defensive clearance seconds earlier, but reacted quickly to lay on Kingston’s second strike of the afternoon.
The major flashpoint of the fixture arrived moments later when Town striker Jamie Waterworth was on the receiving end of a reckless challenge. Oakham man Stewart Lambie was rightly dismissed by referee Paul Dobbs while tempers threaten to boil over in the aftermath as Waterworth was treated before being stretchered off.
He was later taken to hospital when initial fears of a dislocated or broken kneecap thankfully proved unfounded. He is due to undergo further medical checks this week.
Kingston was only millimetres away from completing a first-half treble when hitting the bar shortly after the game resumed and a resounding Huntingdon success looked like being the only outcome as the teams headed back to the dressing rooms at half-time.
But neither side appeared to read that script in the second period. Town dominated possession but their play lacked the tempo or purpose to hurt an Oakham defence which was considerably more resolute than it had previously been.
A second Oakham goal – the result of a long pass that caught the Town defence happing – should have served as a wake-up call for the hosts. However, it merely left a Huntingdon side lacking ideas and intent unsure whether to sit on their narrow advantage or aim to put their tiring opponents to the sword.
In the end they just about managed to achieve the former (albeit reliant on one important Quincy Shorunmu save and another Oakham chance being headed over) without ever really threatening the latter.
Town did strike again in the dying seconds as Kingston completed his hat-trick with a low shot from the edge of the box. In the process he doubled his Town goal tally (three in 13 previous appearances) in one afternoon.
While it was a deserving personal milestone for a player who looks to have the raw qualities to progress higher in the non-league game, it gave the final outcome a somewhat flattering appearance.
Brattan will be hoping for better when his side host another struggling team – Long Buckby – this Saturday. That is followed by a trip to higher-level Ely City in a Hinchingbrooke Cup quarter-final on Tuesday (January 23).