A SIZEABLE Belper contingent travelled to Newcastle under Lyme on Saturday not knowing what to expect from the opening day of the season, and came away with mixed feelings about what they saw.
Tommy Taylor’s new squad contained eight members who had finished last season under Andy Carney; ten if you include Luke Fedorenko, who is still injured, and Matt Plant, who has gone out on loan to improve his match fitness.
Richard Adams got the nod over Rob Ludlam at right back for Saturday’s game at the Lyme Valley Stadium. However the remainder of the Nailers’ defence comprised new signings.
Damien Magee has consistently kept out Liam Davis in the left back slot and with Plant temporarily out of the picture, Taylor unsurprisingly went for Tommy Hannigan and Alan O’Hare as his central defensive pairing.
An impressive first half saw the Nailers dominate, leaving Newcastle, also under new management, distinctly second best.
While there wasn’t a stream of clearcut chances, there was one blatant miss from Jon Froggatt, who mistimed a seemingly easy opportunity in the 33rd minute, then was desperately unlucky with a tremendous free kick that hit the upright.
The home team barely had a look in during that first 45 minutes as the Nailers looked sharper, quicker and more alert and there was certainly a feeling at half-time that a 2-0 lead would have been more than justified.
The penalty boosted Newcastle and, to be fair to them, they did liven up considerably from their first half display and the Nailers found it more difficult to get the ball up to their forwards.
The domination Belper had in midfield faded a little with Mark Camm and Jamie Smith less influential, although Deon Meikle shone throughout and much of what the Nailers created was orchestrated through him.
Ruben Wiggins-Thomas also made a strong contribution and appeared to have a free role as he popped up in all areas of the field, but there did seem to be a lack of cohesion when the ball arrived in the Newcastle half, but maybe Lee Morris’s return will help sort that out, although it will be interesting to see who makes way.
Liam Davis was given 30 minutes in place of Andy Rushbury, who faded a little after a good first period, and Ben Spargo livened things up when he took over from Jamie Smith and could have levelled the scores with 15 to go.
‘Purito’ was given a short window late in the game but wasn’t able to influence a Belper revival, but by then Tony Malbon had killed off Belper hopes with a stunning volley that gave Newcastle their victory.
Manager Tommy Taylor saw plenty of positives although he accepted that his side contributed to their own downfall.
“We dominated most of the first half but didn’t make the most of the opportunities we created,” he said.
“We took the game to them from the off and controlled midfield, giving them hardly any opportunity to create anything, and Andy Richmond had very little to do.
“In contrast we got ourselves into really good positions three or four times without being able to score, and in the end that cost us.
“Froggy had the best chance but he said that he couldn’t get his foot properly behind the ball as it came to him.”
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Taylor agreed that the penalty came at the worst possible time and was certainly the key turning point in the game.
“Tommy (Hannigan) didn’t get close enough to the player and once he’d got around him the lad was always looking for the penalty and it was inevitable.”
“We lost possession when Rush (Rushbury) played a square ball and it all stemmed from there,” explained.
“I always have a golden rule about playing the ball square in those positions – just don’t do it,” he added. “The best teams don’t give the ball away and we must learn not to do it.”
Despite coming away with a defeat, Taylor saw the basis of a good side in the making and there was certainly enough to suggest that, with a few tweaks, it shouldn’t be long before the Nailers are picking up points.
Luke Fedorenko is still struggling with a knee injury and it emerged the club asked the Derby County physio to take a look when the Rams were at Christchurch Meadow a couple of weeks back.
“We asked them to give us their opinion,” said Taylor, “and they suggested he had his knee scanned, which will cost around £500, so we are looking at ways of funding this.”
The Nailers face Rainworth Miners Welfare at Christchurch Meadow on Saturday, then travel to Lincoln United next Tuesday evening.