WORRYINGLY for Witton this season has started how the last one ended, with the ignominy of shipping four goals in front of their own fans.
Albion suffered successive home hammerings against Trafford and Rushall in April, meaning Ilkeston’s emphatic – and merited – victory had a familiar feel.
This time last year manager Brian Pritchard knew his team, their preparation disrupted by distractions off the pitch, would be condemned to start slowly.
With focus restored, and a starting line-up including four debutants along with returning Steve Hall, he could be forgiven for not foreseeing the same sluggishness.
Put simply, this was a hammering.
Their guests scored four goals, but in addition they twice hit the woodwork and were denied a blatant penalty when Ben Harrison tripped Kane Richards during the early exchanges.
Perhaps easy then to forget that Witton had led at the break.
Scott Bakkor, after Danny Andrews had clipped a pass into space for Anthony Gardner to race onto, placed the defender’s cross – despite not connecting cleanly – beyond the reach of goalkeeper Jordan Smith.
It proved a rare foray forward for Ilkeston, playing with wing backs, smothered successfully Albion’s attacking threat on the flanks.
They attacked often there themselves, James Reid twice supplying assists from the left for Rob Duffy to shoot at goal.
Witton, though Neil Harvey and Bakkor were sprightly, toiled to create much at the other end.
Ilkeston, rightly irked to be behind at half time, responded in the right way afterwards.
Duffy’s header thumped the crossbar from David Morgan’s corner, awarded after Chris Sanna saved Luke Shaw’s drive at full stretch.
The Robins’ leveller, on 56 minutes, was as brilliant as it was unlikely.
Newcomer Jack Lane, captain at Witton’s neighbours Winsford United last season before a switch to Sacramento in the US, stepped forward from defence before swerving an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
It was stunning, literally for Albion’s players who never recovered.
Lane headed against the woodwork shortly afterwards, again from a Morgan flag kick, before Duffy directed Richards’ assist from the right into the net from close range on 68 minutes.
Richards, attempting to flick on Shaw’s cross five minutes later, succeeded in looping the ball inside the far upright to make it 3-1 to Ilkeston.
Worse was to follow when Iain Howard clattered into Duffy from behind when the striker shaped to shoot.
He converted the resulting penalty with ease.
Bakkor scooped a shot too close to Smith, while Howard dragged an attempt wide of the far post.
Had either effort gone in, it would still have been a challenge to envisage an Albion comeback.
Gone by then was the fortitude shown during friendlies, replaced by a flimsiness that Sam Barnes or Michael Powell – both ruled out by injury – would have helped to prevent.
“Nobody saw that coming,” reflected Witton player coach Anthony Sheehan afterwards.
“We produced one bit of quality, and scored. That’s about it.
“After the way pre-season has gone, we were expecting a lot more from everybody.”
Witton (4-4-2) Sanna (GK), Gardner, Moyo, Harrison, Lea (Dawson 74), Andrews, Davidson (Corbett 82), Hall (Sheehan 74), Howard, Bakkor, Harvey Subs not used Swift (GK), Titchiner Goal Bakkor 28 Booked Andrews (retaliation), Bakkor (foul)
Ilkeston (3-5-2) Smith (GK), Wright, Maguire, Lane, Shaw, Morgan, Chettle, Williams (Gordon 90), Reid (Wallace 84), Richards (Adams 79), Duffy Subs not used Storey, Burrows Goals Lane 56, Duffy 68, 81 (penalty), Richards 73 Booked Reid, Lane (both fouls)
Referee Bob Roberts