Hilton Harriers Reserves manager Karl Archer has praised his players after they suffered a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat in the Derbyshire FA Junior Cup final at the hands of Holbrook St Michaels.


Harriers attacker Chris Smith gave his side a dream start, but goals from Ben Litchfield and Steve Levy meant that Holbrook lifted the trophy on Monday evening, following a closely-ran contest which saw both sides accumulate major chances.


The final was the first that Hilton’s reserves side has ever reached, and the third that any Hilton side had appeared in, and Archer says that the experience has been vital for his players despite the result at Grange Park in Long Eaton.


“[It’s been] fantastic for the players, [the] players were really, really good… I think it’s helped us all the way through the league,” he said, following a defeat which brought an end to a 13-match unbeaten run in all competitions.


Hilton put in a dedicated display, and were rewarded when Smith muscled possession from his namesake Shaun Smith, cut inside and finished cooly.


Despite Ben Litchfield’s headed equaliser, which came after Adam Pynegar headed on a free-kick across the face of the goal, Hilton continued to stand toe to toe with their opponents in what was a fiery game throughout.


Holbrook could have doubled their lead when Jamie Atkinson headed over the bar from a few yards out following a superb save from Valdair Silva.


Hilton missed a chance of their own when Smith found Sam Morris in the area with a smart through-ball, but when Morris’ cross was deflected into the path of Jason North, the striker could only lift the ball over the bar with a volley.


A tightly-contested first half wasn’t fully replicated in the second-half, with Holbrook enjoying the majority of chances.


The winner came when the ball was cut back for Levy, who fired into a virtually open net past a helpless Silva.


But Hilton didn’t give in, and continued to threaten throughout the extended added time period, but when North fired a last-minute free kick over the bar, the referee’s whistle was blown not long after.


Despite missing out on the chance to win their first cup trophy, Hilton Harriers Reserves can be proud of the journey that took them to the final.


He said: “Even in the first few rounds where we came back from 3-0 down [against Derby Athletic] in the first half [to win on penalties], we’ve come through and we got there.


“We tried hard. I think the players put their effort in so I can’t knock them really… it was just one of them, we were just unlucky.”


As well as their dramatic comeback against Derby Athletic, Hilton saw success at the other end of the spectrum in their quarter-final match, crushing South Normanton United 10-0.


Hilton will resume their league campaign on Wednesday as they look to continue their unbeaten record in the league.