Promotion may well be on the horizon for Ilkeston FC but if they want to achieve it in the next three weeks they’ll have to play a lot better than this.
A poor performance on a poor pitch at Grantham did their hopes no favours even though they remain safely in the play-off zone, but they run the risk of relying on others to slip up if displays don’t improve in the final two games of the regular season.
And should they make the play-offs, vast improvements will be needed for Ilkeston to be the team that goes up.
An early goal was the killer here but the Robins lacked the creative spark that could have earned them a point or three, although a couple of late chances were spurned to add to their frustration.
Ilkeston had the first opening when Luke Shaw volleyed over the top after James Reid’s free-kick had been cleared to him on the edge of the penalty area.
But it would be Grantham who would register the first goal and what turned out to be the winner. Eight minutes had been played when Danny Meadows’ ball into the box was turned in by Lee Ndlovu 12 yards out.
The Robins were nearly gifted a route straight back into the game when an error by goalkeeper Jake Turner gave the ball to Rob Duffy but defenders got back in time to clear the eventual ball into the danger zone from Jack Watts.
Very few chances followed as Ilkeston were wasteful in midfield and both sides struggled to cope with a bobbly pitch.
Reid saw a shot deflected into Turner’s hands just after the half-hour mark, before Grantham’s Michael Hollingsworth fired straight at Robins keeper Jordan Smith moments later.
Jack Lane broke forward but shot horribly wide from 35 yards, before the hosts should have doubled their lead when Ndlovu nipped in to get the ball round Smith but was crowded out and could only see his shot deflected into the side netting.
Reid saw a cross to the back post clip the crossbar right on the stroke of half-time, but the break arrived with Ilkeston a goal down and in major need of some inspiration in the second-half.
That inspiration never came. It took 13 minutes of the second-half for a good chance to arrive when Grantham’s Liam Read broke free and ran in on goal but fired high over the Robins’ crossbar.
Meadows then put a 30-yard free-kick just past the post for the hosts and moments later was sent through on goal but again sent the ball wide with just Smith to beat.
Ben Saunders then headed an Ndlovu cross straight at Smith, before the game again went into a lull with neither side able to penetrate.
The first Ilkeston shot of the half came on 79 minutes as the ball broke to Reid on the edge of the box and his low half volley was parried by Turner with nobody on hand to turn in the rebound.
Sub Jack Sowerby nearly got in after a mix-up at the back but Turner blocked his way with eight minutes left, then in stoppage time Reid found room again but this time his drive was deflected just too high and the Robins’ chance had gone.
Grantham: 1 Jake Turner, 2 Danny Meadows, 3 Liam Kay, 4 Sam Purcicoe (c), 5 Scott Hellewell (Liam Hurst 73), 6 Lee Miveld, 7 Michael Hollingsworth, 8 Liam Read, 9 Lee Ndlovu (Will Rawdon 90), 10 Ben Saunders, 11 Michael Emmott
Subs not used: Stefan Bilyk, Luke Johnson, Jake Wholey
Ilkeston: 1 Jordan Smith, 2 Luke Shaw, 3 James Reid, 4 Matt Baker, 5 Joe Maguire (c), 6 Jack Lane, 7 Joe Burgess (Eli Bako 79), 8 Callum Chettle, 9 Rob Duffy (Jack Sowerby 56), 10 Kane Richards, 11 Jack Watts (Rai Simons 80)
Subs not used: Curtis Burrows, Jake Wright
Ref: N Guest
Star Robin: Joe Burgess