Anyone with any doubts over quite what Ilkeston might have to offer this season need only have been at this encounter in Cheshire on Saturday to realise things actually look decidedly bright.
‘One swallow doesn’t make a summer,’ proud manager Kevin Wilson was keen to emphasise after the game, but his side had just produced a stunning second-half display to come from behind and dispatch a not untalented Witton Albion who, whilst not doing themselves any favours, had no answer to an incisive Robins performance.
The benefits of full-time training were evident throughout, but Ilkeston also showed great resolve in bouncing back from not only being behind at half-time but also having been denied what looked a certain penalty when Kane Richards appeared to have been fouled by Ben Harrison on 13 minutes.
That incident was one of many decisions by ref Bob Roberts that mystified most of the ground during the game and looked to have proved pivotal when Albion went in front on 28 minutes.
Full-back Anthony Gardner got possession on the right-hand side and his low cross found new signing Scott Bakkor, whose contact wasn’t particularly true but the ball still looped over Jordan Smith and into the corner of the net.
The match was decidedly even throughout the first period, Rob Duffy seeing numerous efforts go close for the Robins and Bakkor, Danny Andrews and Steve Hall nearly registering for the home side.
The second-half, however, would see Ilkeston take control, although Andrews nearly put Albion ahead when a clearance struck him and dropped inches wide of the far post just three minutes in.
From then on, the Robins turned the screw. Full-back Luke Shaw impressed throughout and his well-struck 30-yarder was pushed away by keeper Chris Sanna, Duffy then heading against the crossbar from the resultant corner.
The goal that brought Ilkeston level on 56 minutes was, due to its source, as unexpected as it was spectacular.
Centre-half Jack Lane was making his debut for the Robins and decided to announce his arrival by receiving the ball on the half way line, dancing past a half-hearted challenge and then unleashing a stunning left-footed strike from 35 yards that left Sanna with no chance as the ball hit the top corner of the net.
“My dad is always telling me to shoot more,” said Lane afterwards. It had just become evident why, although Lane then proceeded to miss a chance infinitely easier than his goal a few minutes later, heading David Morgan’s corner against the bar from a few yards out.
It mattered little, as on 68 minutes the superb Richards crossed from the right and Duffy headed home from six yards to put Ilkeston ahead.
Richards had been a constant threat all afternoon and added the third himself five minutes later as Shaw’s cross was met by a header low down that somehow looped over Sanna and into the far corner of the net.
One of the most impressive Ilkeston away performances in the club’s short history was then capped nine minutes from time as Duffy was clattered to the ground by Iain Howard and picked himself up to slot home the resultant penalty.
Further chances went begging with Duffy guilty of blowing a couple of good hat-trick opportunities late on, but the Robins had emphatically made their mark on the opening day.
Saturday, August 16, 2014:
Witton: 1 Chris Sanna 2 Anthony Gardner 3 Mike Lea (c) (Jon Dawson 74) 4 Ben Harrison 5 Cliff Moyo 6 Ross Davidson (Zac Corbett 82) 7 Iain Howard 8 Steve Hall (Anthony Sheehan 74) 9 Scott Bakkor 10 Neil Harvey 11 Danny Andrews. Subs not used: Alex Titchiner, Ryan Swift
Ilkeston: 1 Jordan Smith 2 Luke Shaw 3 James Reid (Kieran Wallace 84) 4 Akil Wright 5 Joe Maguire (c) 6 Jack Lane 7 David Morgan 8 Callum Chettle 9 Rob Duffy 10 Kane Richards (Chey Adams 79) 11 Mike Williams (Danny Gordon 90). Subs not used: Ellis Storey, Curtis Burrows
Att: 381 Ref: Bob Roberts
Star Robin: Kane Richards
Report by Mark Duffy (Twitter @DuffersSport)
Photos by Craig Lamont (@MrBarfly)