University of Durham 3
Belper Hockey Club Men’s Firsts 1
Belper made the long journey North on Saturday to face long-time foe the University of Durham in their penultimate England Hockey National Conference North match of the 2012/13 season.
Having arrested their poor run of form the previous week with a creditable draw against Doncaster, Belper were looking to register their first win over Durham and get back to winning ways.
The 12 o’clock pushback meant an early start for Belper, who were travelling without some regular players missing for a variety of reasons.
Sherratt was unavailable due to a groin strain sustained the previous week while Morris was unavailable due to illness. Also missing were Lingeswaren, Palmer and Slane. However, coach Duncan Woods was able to welcome back skipper Hawkes to the side.
The starting line-up consisted of Callum Welch in goal behind a back four of Hawkes, Lamb, Bullock and Blakemore making his first start of the campaign.
The midfield consisted of Ebbage on the left, Kitchen in his familiar central role and Inshaw on the right. The frontline consisted of Cassidy, Blackwell and Steve Batten making his first appearance in the front line this season.
The game started a tense affair with both sides wanting stamp their authority on the game. Belper played some nice hockey with movement of the ball between the lines possible so long as it was moved early and at pace.
It took a while for either side to generate chances but Durham managed to put the Belper defence under significant pressure thanks to a tireless forward unit that used their fitness and substitutes to great advantage.
While under pressure from Durham, Belper regained the ball but were unable to distribute it out from the back and this resulted in a sloppy turn over. With the defence caught out of position and were unable to react as Tony Wilson was allowed to slot home and give his side an unexpected lead.
The remainder of the half was dominated by the visiting side who created two clear cut chances to equalise.
Some excellent work in the midfield and defence saw the ball move down the right hand side through Blakemore and Inshaw to Cassidy, who was able to release Alex Robey, on as a substitute, to attack the Durham defence.
Robey was able to avoid the covering defender with ease using some good stick skills and was faced with the advancing ‘keeper. Robey elected to be unselfish and pass the ball to a supporting Belper player but the pass was just lacking in direction and the chance was missed.
Belper were now starting to fire on all cylinders and looked the better team at this point despite the scoreline.
The inevitable equaliser came after Robey won a penalty corner just before half time. Penalty corners have been an issue for Belper of late but today the routine worked flawlessly as Blackwell was able to switch the ball back to Ebbage and he was able to finish the move with aplomb and draw his side level much to everyone’s delight.
Coach Woods was keen to stress to his side at half-time that good things would come if they could continue to move the ball early and at pace. But they must be aware of the risks posed by the students if Belper players elected to run with ball.
The second half did not start as well as the first for Belper, with Durham making their intentions very clear with some dominant play. After a couple of waves of attacks from the maroon forwards, Belper were no longer able to hold the attackers at bay and Durham created a goal shooting chance.
The initial strong shot was excellently saved by Welch in the visitor’s goal but he was left helpless as Durham reacted quickest to the rebound allowing Wilson to grab his second of the day from the narrowest of angles.
Belper reacted well to this setback and continued to play constructive hockey, but were unable to make the most of the possession and chances they enjoyed. The game was wrapped up by the home side with just two minutes remaining on the clock as Belper searched hard for an equaliser and had committed men forwards.
The Nailers gave away possession and a quick counter from the home side led to the third Durham goal from Alex Czerniewski in the 68th minute.
Despite the disappointing scoreline, the Nailers had shown a great appetite to win the game but to also do it playing attractive hockey.
With the side’s position in the league guaranteed for another season, the side can look forward to taking on league title hopefuls Bowden at home next Sunday in a game that the visitors need a result from to guarantee the title.
Duncan Woods was philosophical after the game: “It was always going to be a hard task to get a result today with such a depleted squad but the players that have come in have performed brilliantly and they have staked a claim for inclusion next week.”
Belper finish their league season at home against Bowden next Sunday at the Meadows with a 2pm start.