EHL Men’s Conference North
Sheffield Hallam Civica 3
WITH the Nailers having secured their National League status for another season the previous week, it was a less pressurised fixture at the Meadows for the final match of the 2010/11 season, at least for the home side.
The visitors were second-placed Sheffield Hallam only one point behind leaders Durham University and chasing the title going into the final fixture.
It was always going to be a tough fixture for Sheffield, especially after Alex Humphreys received a very serious head injury at their final training session on Thursday evening that required emergency surgery.
Belper were wanting to finish their tough season with a win and three points to distance themselves from the bottom three teams in the league.
From the outset, both sides looked to move the ball at pace and keep the intensity high.
The early exchanges were even with both keepers called upon to make some comfortable saves.
Sheffield took the lead on 16 minutes when they pressured the home defence and Duncan Longson neatly placed the ball under Neill Slane.
Clearly not happy with the Sheffield goal, Belper hit back and created a couple of chances with Joe Sharp and Tom Sherratt seeing their efforts saved or go just wide.
As Belper tried to push an extra man forward, spaces were appearing at the back that was allowing the Sheffield frontline freedom to exploit.
On one occasion after a sloppy turnover Sheffield had an overload and were only foiled by an exceptional tackle by Richard Kitchen. David Ebbage was having a good game on the left against his brother Martin in the Sheffield midfield.
The turning point in the half was that after a couple of warnings from the umpire Martin Ebbage did not retreat the full five metres from a free hit and was penalised with a yellow card and five minute suspension. With Sheffield down to ten men, the momentum was now with the home side.
Almost immediately from the free hit, Belper looked to move the ball forward early and take advantage of the extra player. James Blackwell and Ben Inshaw were enjoying more space in which to move and distribute the ball and one pass found Sam McCambridge at the top of the circle.
Despite the presence of two defenders, Sam managed to control the ball and get a shot off on goal.
The Sheffield keeper got his left foot to the ball but the power behind the shot took it into the side netting and it was 1-1 thanks to his 49th goal for the club on 33 minutes.
From the restart Sheffield tried to retain the ball but were turned over in possession by James Blackwell in the centre of midfield. After releasing the ball He made a strong lead towards the top of the Sheffield circle. Joe Sharp then played a delightful pass to James at the top of the Sheffield circle. What happened next is a great example of how good basics can produce delightful results. James took one touch to control the ball, another to move the ball away from the charging keeper before firing the ball low into the bottom corner for an exceptionally well taken goal and Belper led 2-1.
The final half time team talk of the season was all about keeping possession when required and committing forward when gaps opened up.
With Sheffield needing a win to stand any chance of claiming the title, Belper knew that they would come out with purpose.
This was certainly the case as Sheffield pushed hard and attempted to create overloads inside the Belper half.
The visitors equalised on 49 minutes with a strong shot which Slane probably should have saved.
Belper introduced Dan Darby for his national league debut. After training with the first team squad since before Christmas, it was just rewards for the young England U16 keeper who marked his introduction by making a fine save off another Sheffield attack.
With the score at 2-2 Belper were still looking for the win and they took the lead on 57 minutes when Tom Sherratt trapped the ball and calmly lifted it over the prone keeper.
Belper were now visibly tiring and the Sheffield side becoming frustrated at being unable to break down the Belper defence with any regularity.
Sheffield responded with a drive into the Belper circle. As the Sheffield player entered the circle he fired a shot that was going wide only for Phil Roper to dive in at the back post and direct the ball in for 3-3 after 67 minutes.
Belper ended the season in spirited style with a second successive 3-3 home draw.