Evo-Stik League NPL First Division South
Belper Town 1, New Mills 1
BELPER Town suffered an agonising final day of the season when they could only draw against New Mills, and results elsewhere conspired against them to lose out on a play off spot to rivals Leek Town.
The Nailers selected Greg Wright in the centre of defence after Michael Simpkins failed a late fitness test and Alton Rennalls came in for Chris Adam who missed out with a hamstring problem.
After being on the verges of the play offs in recent weeks, New Mills’ form had slipped in the last few games, but the Nailers couldn’t afford to be complacent as only a win would confirm that they would finish in fourth place, and then Sheffield and Leek results would have no consequence.
Luke Horrocks didn’t make the most of a brief opportunity in the second minute when Aaron Chapman fell as he came to collect the ball and he wasn’t able to get any power behind the shot.
The Nailers forced a succession of corner kicks and from one of them, Graham Wright headed across goal and just past the far post, then in the 14th minute Charlie Weir nodded a clear opportunity wide from a Glyn Cotton free kick.
The Nailers suffered a blow in the 20th minute when Alton Rennalls twisted his leg in a tackle and couldn’t continue, and Ben Leonard came off the bench to replace him.
Ben Deegan should have done better for New Mills when he ran through in the 23rd minute but he ran out of space and was unable to release a shot.
New Mills were giving the ball away quite frequently at this stage but the Nailers failed to make the most of it and were equally wasteful at times.
Belper livened up the crowd with a swift breakaway in the 34th minute when Jon Froggatt found Glyn Cotton running in on the corner of the penalty area, but his volley went just past the far post.
Belper had the ball in the net in the 36th minute when Ashley Longstaff volleyed past James Coates but the referee’s assistant had spotted an offside and his effort was disallowed, and the Belper striker had a chance in the dying seconds of the first half when he ran clear down the left but snatched at an angled shot and put the ball wide of the upright.
Andy Rushbury had a good opportunity soon after the restart but fired high and wide but Belper were desperate to inject some urgency into the game and the breakthrough came in the 55th minute when Ashley Longstaff latched on to short pass from Ben Leonard, and turned to thread the ball between the legs of New Mills ‘keeper James Coates.
A second goal was now high on the Nailers’ agenda and but it was New Mills who scored next when Carlos Meakin leaned in to head the ball beyond Aaron Chapman, and anxiety returned to Christchurch Meadow.
With results going against the Nailers elsewhere Mark Ward replaced Andy Rushbury but New Mills continued to look the better side with Belper trying to get something on the break.
Then, as the game entered the last ten minutes Belper finally began to force the issue and after a series of corners a great chance fell to Ashley Longstaff in the 87th minute but his hard shot bounced back off the cross bar leaving Nailers’ supporters frustrated.
With news that Leek had overturned Belper’s goal difference against Shepshed, only a late strike was going to elevate the Nailers to play off status, but the break that they so desperately needed just didn’t come their way.
Jon Froggatt scuffed a half chance wide as seconds began to run out for the Nailers but it just wasn’t to be as the referee brought the game, and Belper’s season to a disappointing conclusion.
It was a cruel end to such a remarkable sequence of results, and after hauling themselves briefly to 4th place in the league from 18th just before Christmas, this had been a tremendous effort that fell just short at the final hurdle.
The Nailers will now reflect on their impressive form over the last 15 games and take that confidence into next season, and try to achieve their promotion dream in 12 months time.
Belper Town: Chapman, Pride, Weir, Cotton (Turner 90), White, Wright, Rushbury (Ward 75), Warne, Froggatt, Longstaff, Rennalls (Leonard 20). Unused subs: Colley, Saxby.
New Mills: Coates, Bowler, Moss, Swirad, Chadwick, Lonsdale, Meakin, Millen, Deegan (Needham 78), Grandison, Horrocks. Unused subs: Pickering, Benson, Innes.
Referee: Mark Hutchinson of Bingham
Match sponsor: Toucan Web Design
Man of the match: Charlie Weir