Gardner strike proves decisive
Saturday 13 October
New signing Dereece Gardner emerged as Ilkeston FC's hero this afternoon when his 69th minute strike clinched their second Evo-Stik League Premier Division win of the season.
The 18-year-old former Aston Villa and Watford front-runner opened his goals account at the New Manor Ground within four minutes of going on to replace the injured Aaron Hooton - and that was enough to ensure a 1-0 win over Stocksbridge Park Steels.
It relieved the growing tension among supporters, who were just beginning to wonder where the elusive goal might come from.
And it was certainly the perfect tonic for manager Kevin Wilson, who watched the game from beneath the Clocktower, less than a week after undergoing a hip replacement operation.
He said: "We were not at our best but that's another three points in the bag - and a clean-sheet - and we desperately needed to win this game.
"We've done really well to make progress in the cup competitions but as I've repeatedly said, it was imperative to carry that form into our League matches and start climbing the table.
"Stocksbridge defended in spirited fashion but I have to say that we made hard work of it. We had plenty of possession and kept getting ourselves into good positions without creating that many clear-cut opportunities.
"In the end Dereece came up trumps and I'm delighted for him. We thought long and hard about whether to start with him today because he's been looking really bright in training - and there's definitely more to come from him."
Watched by a crowd of 638, the Robins always had the upper hand but despite all the first-half action in and around the Stocksbridge goal, it wasn't until two minutes from the interval that Dion Chambers forced goalkeeper Ben Scott to make his first testing save.
New-boy Jordan Smith, who was preferred to Daryll Thomas in the starting line-up, almost opened his goals account straight after the break but it was Gardner who finally broke the deadlock, latching onto a cross from Jack Watts and finishing neatly.
Gardner almost struck again four minutes from time but when he lacked composure after fighting his way into an excellent position, it meant the game remained in the balance.
No one could dispute the fact that the Robins were worthy winners, however, and as Wilson said: "It's very encouraging that we're now five games undefeated and have won the last four - and we have to keep that going."
Next up is a League trip to Stafford Rangers on Tuesday, followed by an FA Cup trip to AFC Fylde next Saturday.