Evo Stik League
First Division South
Spalding United 0
Belper Town 1
It was painful to watch but at least the Nailers managed a victory and a clean sheet against a Spalding side that had lost their management team and most of their playing squad only a few days earlier.
A more one sided affair you are never likely to see with Belper controlling 90 per cent of the play, but they couldn’t find a way past a dogged defence and a goalkeeper who played as though his life depended on it.
The Tulips turned to former player Andy Stanhope to step into the breach and he pulled together a team of youngsters and loanees at very short notice, and his players did him proud by holding the Nailers until the 88th minute.
Belper manager Andy Carney restored Russ Peel to the starting line up and left Andy Rushbury on the bench, while the remainder of the starting line up was consistent with those that played at Loughborough and Buxton.
In many ways it was always going to be a difficult afternoon for the Nailers who were playing a side who had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The Tulips had a couple of old heads at the back and a solid ‘keeper who definitely knew what was what between the posts, but they had very little to offer up front and Ali Barcherini only had one direct shot to save in the first half and barely saw the ball at all after the break.
Ruben Wiggins-Thomas was probably Belper’s most effective player as he certainly had the beating of left back Alex Lyon as early as the sixth minute when he raced past him into the penalty area before losing his footing as he was about to shoot.
Russ Peel set up Darryl Thomas two minutes later but the ‘keeper came out and blocked the ball with his legs, and already the feeling of frustration was beginning to creep in.
Wiggins-Thomas looked dangerous again in the 16th minute when he twisted and turned his way into the penalty area and found Darryl Thomas with a short cross, but the Belper striker got the ball tangled under his feet and couldn’t get a shot in.
The Nailers missed a very good chance two minutes later when Jon Froggatt stretched the Tulip’s defence and rolled the ball along the edge of the penalty box to the unmarked Russ Peel, but he snatched at his shot and couldn’t even find the target.
Jon Froggatt was unlucky in the 27th minute when he despatched a curling shot from the corner of the box, and Spalding ‘keeper Nathan Thackery somehow managed to keep it out with a flying save.
Frustration was deepening for the Nailers and when Darryl Thomas missed what seemed to be a straightforward header from a Wiggins-Thomas cross, the anxiety was beginning to show almost as much as Spalding’s confidence was growing.
The second half proved to be one of total ,dominance, but good as the Nailers were up to the edge of the penalty area; there was very little end product inside it.
However one of Belper’s best direct moves came in the 50th minute when interchanging of passing ended with a 12 yard effort from Matty Thorpe, but Thackery’s height proved invaluable in saving the shot.
It was all Belper now and the ball was constantly in the Spalding half.
Nicky Darker slipped the ball through to Matty Thorpe and his cross fizzed across the six yard area just begging for a touch, then Darryl Thomas drilled it the ball goal bound in the 75th minute and Thorpe prodded his effort just wide of the target.
Another great opportunity fell to Darryl Thomas after Wiggins-Thomas’ cross from the right escaped the clutches of the Tulips’ giant goalkeeper, but with the goal virtually at his mercy, he pulled his shot wide.
Desperate Belper threw everything they had into the Spalding penalty area and still a goal wasn’t forthcoming, and when Jon Froggatt’s 81st minute header looked destined to in, Russ Peel couldn’t get out of the way and involuntarily headed the ball off the Tulips’ goal line.
Nicky Darker could do no better when he had a half chance on 85 minutes and he miscued badly from ten yards, but with two minutes to go a mad scramble inside the six yard area yielded that elusive goal.
The ball bounced around like a game of ping-pong and as Spalding threw bodies in the way to block at least three efforts from point-blank range, Ruben Wiggins-Thomas somehow squeezed it in at the foot of the post to spark an outpouring of relief from the Belper players.
Nearly all Belper’s outfield players launched themselves onto the goal scorer, which demonstrated what the goal meant to them, and it was sufficient to condemn crestfallen Spalding to yet another defeat in their wretched season.
Spalding United: Thackery, Keale (Kirby 73), Lyon, Drury, Holding, Pawson, Curruthers, Deane, Todd, Baker (Donaghy 85), de’Oliveira Shaw 57). Subs not used: Allen, Flintoff.
Belper Town: Barcherini, Pride, Thompson, Darker, Laight, Adams, Wiggins-Thomas, Thorpe, Froggatt, Thomas, Peel (Rushbury 83). Subs not used: Simmons, Jenkins, Carney.
Referee: Stuart Richardson (Mansfield Woodhouse).