WITH the Evo-Stik NPL taking New Year’s Eve off apart from one match in Division One North, Rainworth MW ended their Southern Section year on a high with a well deserved goalless draw at normally free-scoring Carlton Town.
And now they are hoping to carry their improved form into the New Year, starting with Monday’s home local derby against Hucknall Town.
Boxing Day saw former managerial colleagues Kevin Gee (Rainworth) and Les McJannet (Carlton) going head to head – and with a number of the Millers side having played under the duo at Glapwell, Gee got his tactics just right.
Rainworth were not helped when facing the league’s highest scorers by the suspension of skipper Steve Kennedy, the continuing injury of fellow central defender Tommy Hannigan, and the recent departure of Cameron Fearon, another able to excel in that position, to Eastwood Town.
Additionally, highly rated keeper Joe McCormack had left for Leek, for whom he made a man of the match debut at New Mills, so Rainworth faced a mountainous task.
But new boys goalkeeper Alessandro Barcherini and centre back Romaine Graham made impressive debuts while Lee Cooksey, pulled back into defence from midfield, was quite superb.
A delighted Gee enthused: “In the circumstances this was a terrific result, and with four points from two of the top clubs in Stamford and Carlton over Christmas I’ve got to be well pleased. In a way I’m disappointed that it was only a draw but you have to be realistic and in anyone’s book this was a fantastic point for us.”
On the debuts of his two new boys, Gee continued: “Both put in real quality performances. I’ve known Ally since he was 16, he’s played over 200 games in the Northern Premier League and that showed with a terrific performance, while Romaine showed just why I was keen to bring him in.
“But I should not forget Lee Cooksey, who dropped back from midfield to fill in at centre back and did superbly well.
“I spoke to Lee before the match and he told me he thought it was his best position – then he said five minutes before kick-off that he is deaf in one ear, so that does affect where we can play him.
“The forwards will be a little disappointed not to have got something, but that’s football and we are another point closer to where we need to be.”
On this occasion the fresh legs of the substitutes did not quite have the desired effect, and although Matt Glass’ withdrawal after taking a kick was merely precautionary, Rainworth came under some late pressure, and had a little bit of luck when Carlton had a goal ruled out for offside.
But Gee added: “We got out of jail a little bit with the flag, but I thought our performance and work ethic deserved that little bit of luck and I was relieved to see it go up.
“When you are playing the joint top of the league on their own patch where they have lost only one game all season you don’t dwell too much on going forward, but we kept people behind the ball and shut them out.”
Looking forward to the New Year Monday home derby with Hucknall, Gee ended: “They are another club who are now likely to look at us and view it as another tough game.
“We go into it on good form, and if we can achieve five more wins from our remaining 17 games I’m sure we will be safe, which is our first target.”
Rainworth have twice lost to their old rivals this season, unluckily going down 1-0 over the August Bank Holiday at Watnall Road, and then falling 2-1 at home in another close game in the FA Trophy in October.
Matt Glass is expected to be fit to face the Yellows, but there remains a continuing doubt about Tommy Hannigan, whose calf injury is taking longer to heal than first expected.
Meanwhile Steve Kennedy sits out the second leg of his four match ban.