England Hockey League
Conference North Division
Belper 1, Beeston 1
THIS crucial relegation game against fellow strugglers and local rivals Beeston, encapsulated the whole of Belper’s season.
In particular the ability to gift the opposition a soft goal and the inability to take enough of the numerous chances created.
Barely three minutes had gone when a misplaced back-pass went straight to Beeston’s Welsh international striker Sophie Robinson and she made no mistake from eight metres with a powerful first-time shot through keeper Kathryn Bradbury’s legs.
So once more, Belper had to play catch-up hockey but, to the great credit of the Nailers, they shrugged off the disappointment and proceeded to play their best attacking hockey of the season.
Time after time, the navy blue and red wave rolled forward to press the visitors deep in their defensive area.
On 11 minutes Belper won their first corner but Anna Toman’s blistering shot was turned round the post by a diving stick save from Nat Hunter in the Beeston goal.
Minutes later Toman entered the circle with an excellent dribble but her pass to the far post was cut out by another spectacular dive by Hunter. Then moments later, Toman produced a reverse stick shot that whizzed just over the bar.
Recent recruit Lizzie Lamb was prominent as Belper strove for the equaliser. Her smart pass to Charlotte Hobbs in the circle resulted in the latter’s quick shot just passing wide of the post. Finally, in the 29th minute, Belper’s endeavours were rewarded.
A quickly taken long corner by Toman allowed Kathryn Lane to fire a rapid centre into the circle. Hobbs, Belper’s leading scorer, anticipated the pass with a well-timed run and her near post deflection flew into the goal.
Yet again this season, Belper were on the end of a bizarre umpiring decision when they were awarded their third penalty corner just before half-time.
As they were preparing to take the corner, the whistle went for half-time and the clock was stopped.
The disengaged umpire then moved up to help supervise the set play and Belper’s defenders also moved up to contest the set piece which is allowed to be taken in overtime.
Then, as Belper were preparing again to take the corner, the engaged umpire blew her whistle to end the corner on the grounds that Belper were ‘time wasting’. An impossible fact given that the clock had been stopped as the half had finished and there was no time to be wasted
Belper therefore had to put another disappointment behind them as they strove for the winner. Four penalty corners came and went with the Beeston defence making some last ditch saves and the Nailers putting a couple of chances wide.
The second half was a more even contest as Beeston improved on their initial performance. The visitors earned seven penalty corners in total but Belper’s defence team, having conceded three goals the previous week against Loughborough, were up to the task.
Lamb, Lane, Toman and Rhiannon Rogers all made driving runs to find space to centre the ball but each time it eluded both Hobbs and Sally Walton who were waiting to pounce in front of goal.
This result leaves Belper in a precarious position with two games to go.
The tenth-placed team is automatically relegated from the National League. The ninth team has to go to a play-off with the two other ninth-placed teams from the West and East leagues, and only one survives.
Belper have two tough final games in their North league against the second and thrd placed teams, Sutton and Sunderland.
On Sunday they are away to Sutton, the top scorers in the division, so a demanding encounter is anticipated.
However, Belper ran the West Midland’s outfit close when they visited The Meadows before Christmas.