Evo-Stik League First Division South
Sheffield FC 0
Belper Town 2
After taking three points off close play-off rivals Sheffield on Easter Monday, the Nailers are in control of their own destiny as the season entered the final fortnight.
In fact it may be Sheffield who ultimately pay the price for a recent slump in form as the Nailers sit just two points behind them with a game in hand.
Belper’s incredible run of victories in 2012 looked at risk when they took the field at the BT Local Business Stadium on Bank Holiday Monday, but this clash proved to be fairly routine for assistant manager Mick Godber who stepped up to cover for Peter Duffield who was on holiday.
Greg Wright continued to deputise for the absent Dan White in the centre of defence and there was a surprise return for Charlie Weir who went straight into the side after recovering from a back injury.
Former Belper player Luke Fedorenko was named as a substitute for Sheffield but didn’t get an opportunity to play against his previous club.
Aaron Chapman was in action in the seventh minute when he got down well to save from Steve Woolley’s low drive from the edge of the penalty area, but this was to be Sheffield’s only serious attempt on goal in the first half as the Nailers controlled the game for long spells.
Andy Rushbury let fly from 25 yards when he could have made better use of the ball in the tenth minute, and put the ball well over the crossbar, then a flowing Belper move ended with Ashley Longstaff struggling to get a header in when Rushbury was better placed.
Sheffield ‘keeper Adam Billard made the first of a number of excellent saves when Longstaff unleashed a well-struck volley from just inside the penalty area and Billard’s arching leap saw him palm the ball over the crossbar.
Longstaff struck another stunning shot four minutes later and Billard repeated his earlier feat by turning the ball wide of the post with an equally spectacular save.
The Nailers harried and hassled well forcing the home team into mistakes and as a result, with the exception of the odd foray down the left through Connor Higginson, the Belper defence were relatively untroubled.
After a quiet spell, the Nailers finished the half on a high when firstly Jon Froggatt forced a shooting opportunity that resulted in a fierce effort just over the crossbar, and then Glyn Cotton must have thought he was going to score with a low drive that the ‘keeper somehow got a hand to and steered the ball around the post. Understandably, the home team looked more purposeful after the restart and it took a while before Belper had a presence in the opposition penalty area.
Ashley Longstaff managed to get some power into a back header on 54 minutes, but once again the Sheffield ‘keeper was in the right place.
However, soon afterwards Belper received a boost when Callum Harrison was dismissed following a second yellow card after he bundled over Chris Adam in the 57th minute.
An unnecessary foul on Chris Adam inside the penalty area by Sam Liversedge gave the Nailers a golden opportunity to break the deadlock and Jon Froggatt blasted the spotkick past Adam Billard, who quite frankly didn’t stand a chance.
In the 70th minute, Belper extended their lead after some indecision by the Sheffield defence six yards outside the penalty area, and Ashley Longstaff, with plenty left to do, strode forward and struck an accurate shot that sped off the wet surface to rest just inside the far post for a very well taken goal.
Soon afterwards, Glyn Cotton connected really well with a loose ball 15 yards out and must have thought his first time effort would have resulted in the third goal, but the ‘keeper managed to block the shot with his legs although it’s debateable whether he knew much about it.
The home side started to show some urgency in the last 15 minutes and for the first time the Belper defence had to cope with pressure.
Substitute Dan Williams was allowed a free header in the 79th minute but put it wide. There was still time for Sheffield to lose another player when Andy Gascoigne was sent off for a second yellow to cap a poor day for the home side, but more importantly the Nailers’ quest for a place in the play offs had taken another significant step.
Belper Town: Chapman, Pride, Weir, Cotton, Wright, Simpkins, Rushbury (Leonard 69), Warne, Froggatt, Longstaff (Ward 69), Adam (Rennalls 83). Unused subs: Turner, Saxby.
Sheffield FC: Billard, Burrell, Woolley, Foster, Hadfield, Liversedge, Higginson (Williams 65), Gascoigne, Bradley (Knowles 79), Modest (Graham 61), Harrison. Unused subs: McIntosh, Fedorenko.
Referee: Sean Richardson (Huthwaite)