Belper HC continue fine start

Olton 1

Belper Hockey Club 1sts 2

Belper continued their bright start to the England Hockey National League Conference North campaign when they visited Olton in Birmingham for an eagerly anticipated tie.

The games between both of these sides over the last few seasons have contained lots of goals. Last season, the Nailers managed to record a hard-fought draw and win against the Birmingham side. This season promised to be no different with the first fixture taking place at Olton’s impressive ground at the West Warwickshire Sports Club in Solihull.

Coach Duncan Woods had the luxury of being able to pick from a full squad for the second successive week. He announced an unchanged squad and starting line-up to build on the success of the previous week’s efforts against Leek.

The game started in a constant drizzle, but the weather made the pitch slick and fast from the outset. The home side started the game with the distinct aim of pressing the Belper back four when they were in possession from defensive free hits or deep side-line balls.

Fortunately, the back four of Bullock, Blackwell, Lamb and Hawkes were more than comfortable in possession and when distributing through the wingback positions.

Olton were the first to create a chance through their right wing but when they broke through the Belper back four, they were unable to find the target with their shots and the chances went wide. Belper created a couple of chance of their own with the speedy breaks created by Blackwell’s fantastic distribution allowing Nick Morris to engineer a penalty corner. The initial routine was thwarted by Olton’s Stephen Twist on the goal line but a penalty corner was awarded by the umpire. The second opportunity went awry and the chance was lost.

This seemed to shock Olton into action and they responded by opening the scoring. A quick release from Lamb saw the ball reach Ben Inshaw in midfield. Inshaw looked to have won a free hit after a clumsy Olton challenge but the umpire awarded the free hit to the home side. Olton reacted quickest to move the ball into the Belper defensive twenty five. With such a quick free just after Belper had started to move forward, Hawkes was unable to recover the ground needed and was left helpless as two Olton players passed the ball around him. The Olton forward was able to pick a pass to the far post where an on-rushing James Kyriakides who had the simple task of tapping home from a metre out.

This, in turn, spurred Belper into action and they went on the attack immediately. Belper earned a penalty corner after excellent work by David Ebbage and Alex Robey. On this occasion the initial shot was charged down but a rebound effort by Luke Davies, on as a substitute, saw his first time volleyed shot pass narrowly passed the far post.

Belper were gaining in confidence as they started to impose themselves on the game. When Belper moved the ball at pace and used first time passing, the home side simply had no response. When Olton did have possession, the Belper defence, aided by Steve Batten and Richard Kitchen, was able to stand firm.

The Nailers’ half-time team talk was the same as the week before with coach Woods encouraging Belper to continue to try and do the right thing by doing the basics well and exploiting the space on the pitch.

As Belper took to the pitch for the second half, the heavens opened and drenched players and spectators alike. It very much felt like winter was on its way, a far cry from the bright sunshine and high temperature of the same fixture in 2011. Olton started the second half with a very high intensity and pressurised the Belper back seven. As with the previous week, it was heartening to see the Belper side display such resilience whilst under so much pressure. Olton eventually won a penalty corner after some fantastic defending by Luke Davies prevented a double overload in the circle. Slane was able to make the save low down to his right and deflect the ball for a long corner.

This was not then end of the pressure and Olton won another corner very quickly. Nick Morris was green carded for his protestations to the umpire that the decision may not have been entirely correct. Fortunately, Belper defended the corner well but James Blackwell was also green carded for disagreeing with the umpiring.

Reduced to nine men for two minutes, Olton pressed Belper very hard but Lamb, Davies and Bullock defended superbly to see the time out without any real pressure on their goal.

This appeared to give Belper belief and the re-introduction of Blackwell and Morris saw the Nailers generate a quick counter-attack that ended with the ball being trapped in the Olton keeper’s pads after good work by Walton and Innocent. From the resulting penalty corner, the flick shot was disguised and fired back to Walton, the injector. He finished crisply past the Olton defence with a swept shot to level the score at one each. This made it 1 – 1 in the 43rd minute.

From this point on, Belper dominated play and caused Olton issues by moving the ball quickly and transferring from the back to the front as quick as possible. Rich Cassidy and Adam Innocent both created opportunities from the right of the pitch with Olton just managing to thwart them.

As the game wore on, Olton became frustrated at the lack of chances they were creating and also at some umpiring decisions that did not go their way. Belper took advantage of this and continued to press and were unlucky not to further their lead when great work by Ebbage and Robey saw a great cross cause panic in the Olton defence and a great lead by Innocent saw him deflect the ball just inched wide. The warning signs were there for all to see as Belper turned the screw with Batten also going close.

The winner came in typical fashion with a fantastic release from Blackwell being first timed into the path of Ben Walton by Innocent. Walton advanced on the Olton circle, drawing the keeper and flicking the ball over his right arm into the bottom corner for his second of the afternoon and give Belper a well-deserved lead in the 66th minute.

Belper were able to see out the game and take their second successive league win. It was a great result for the squad as they look to consolidate their position in the league.

Coach Duncan Woods commented: “It was pleasing to get the win in the manner we did. There were good and bad points today as we shouldn’t have been down to nine at any stage, but our maturity shone through as we killed the penalty without too much trouble. We’ll need to show that maturity next week and keep eleven players on the pitch when we take on Preston”

Two-goal hero Ben Walton was exceptionally pleased with his haul from the afternoon: “It feels brilliant to bag two goals today. I’ve been working hard in training with the rest of the boys and it was great to have that hard work pay off.”

Belper continue their league programme next week with the visit of Preston to the Meadows followed by a trip to Old Halesowens in the England Hockey Cup on Sunday.