Belper Town can consider themselves very unlucky not to have had a stab at promotion to the Premier Division after missing out on a play off place by goals scored when they could only draw their final game against New Mills.
Peter Duffield’s side had put together a tremendous 16-game unbeaten run which contained 14 wins and two draws, amassing 44 points from an available 48.
In fact, the Nailers lost just once since defeating eventual play off winners Ilkeston Town on New Year’s Day and that was in the next game at home to Coalville Town who won with two late wonder strikes when a draw seemed the most likely outcome.
Despite the disappointment of missing out on the play offs the club finished the season in a very strong position in terms of the playing squad, and there are sure to be some strategical additions that will install the Nailers amongst the favourites to go all the way next season.
Yet just twelve months ago the town was getting excited about the appointment of Tommy Taylor who had made his name as a defender with West Ham United in the 1970s with an FA Cup winners medal and an England international appearance on his CV.
Taylor’s previous association with Jon Froggatt at Boston United was the catalyst for the appointment and the pairing, with Froggatt as assistant, seemed to be a perfect match for the Nailers who not only retained their best player and leading scorer, but also had the services of a very experienced manager.
But, by the middle of September after winning just two and drawing two of the first eight league games, and possibly just as crucial, a first round FA Cup exit at Market Deeping, Taylor was on his way out of Christchurch Meadow and within 48 hours, Peter Duffield was at the helm.
It was a close run contest between Duffield and Taylor any way at the interview stage, and there will be those who say that Duffield should have been given the job from the start of the season, and school of thought that suggests Taylor wasn’t given long enough to prove what he could do.
One of the biggest risks surrounding Taylor’s departure was the future of Jon Froggatt who was clearly unhappy about the situation he found himself in, but Duffield made it clear that he wanted him to stay, but that in the end it had to be the player’s decision.
As history shows, Froggatt decided to stay on at Christchurch Meadow and as time went by his goal output gradually increased and he finished on 33 goals in all competitions.
Duffield’s appointment yielded immediate dividends although he suffered an agonising defeat at Carlton with a very late goal, but made amends four days later by going back to face the Millers in the League Cup and winning 4-2.
This victory sent the Nailers on an eight-game unbeaten run that included league victories at Rainworth, Goole, Brigg and a draw at Loughborough, while there was League Cup win at Sheffield and a rare FA Trophy success at Barton Town.
But the Nailers started to show signs that all wasn’t well in the game at Loughborough and in the next league game, Hucknall romped to a 5-1 win at Christchurch Meadow and Duffield knew that it was time to start making changes.
Duffield has since said that the winning start he made prevented him bringing in the players he eventually did, and arguably delayed the ‘revival’ by a few weeks, and it took a while for the new look Belper line up to settle.
In fact at one point the Nailers sank to 18th place in the division and in the space of a few weeks, Belper exited the FA Trophy, League Cup and Derbyshire Senior cup and there were doubts creeping into supporters’ minds as to whether Duffield was really the right man for the job.
And for a while it was hard going for Belper who couldn’t get out of the habit of losing at home and gloom descended on Christchurch Meadow in towards the end of November and into December with consecutive league defeats against Carlton, Sutton Coldfield, Kidsgrove, Grantham and after a rare win against Shepshed, a Boxing Day defeat at home to Sheffield FC.
In that period was a 9-3 home defeat in the Derbyshire Senior Cup so when the Nailers went to high flyers Ilkeston FC on New Year’s Day any positive result would be welcome.
Jordan Turner’s late strike secured the double against the Robins and although Coalville grabbed a late win in early January, no-one could have predicted what was to come after Newcastle Town were turned over in the Nailers’ next home game.
In fact they never tasted defeat again for the remainder of the season and they then embarked on a run that saw them fleetingly in fourth place after their penultimate league game against Leek Town.
Sadly, they just couldn’t force the final victory that would have sent them to the New Manor Ground to face Ilkeston FC where surely they would have given the Robins a severer test than did Sheffield who capitulated to a 7-0 defeat.
However the Nailers can look back on a hugely successful second half of the last campaign and we now look forward to next season with enhanced anticipation.