Ladies are facing a crucial relegation clash

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England Hockey League

Conference North Division

Loughborough Students 5

Belper 0

MISSING three key players, Anna Toman (A level course), Camilla Hall (wedding) and Becky White (injured), Belper were always going to have trouble staying with league title challengers Loughborough Students and so it proved.

Five goals before half-time, three from penalty corners, saw the Nailers in desperate trouble but a hugely improved second half performance as several players became used to having to play their different roles and positions, meant that the students were unable to add to their total.

Loughborough had three penalty corners in the first half and scored from all of them in the tenth, 19th and 24th minutes.

Interspersed with the corners was an untidy open play goal on 13 minutes as the ball bobbled around in the Belper circle for some time before finally ending up in the goal and, just before half-time, an excellent goal on the counter as Belper were enjoying a period of attacking and Loughborough broke from their own circle to score.

Belper are going to need all the resilient qualities and determination that they showed in the second half when they face local rivals Beeston on Saturday in a showdown which is likely to have a crucial bearing on the relegation issues.

Results over the weekend now mean that Belper and Beeston both have eight points but the Nottingham club have eased above the Nailers and out of the relegation zone on goal difference.

In the earlier meeting of the two teams before Christmas at Highfields Hockey Centre, Belper were 2-1 winners with goals from Toman and Anke Kozuch, so at Belper Meadows (1.30pm) a contest of immense importance and significance for both clubs should provide an entertaining spectacle.

Seven of the first team players from the Loughborough match travelled on Sunday together with Anna Toman, to King’s Lynn to play their quarter final match of the EHB’s Under-18 Cup sponsored by the MAN Group against the Pelicans HC.

Their experience of the tough world of the National League hockey stood them in good stead as they earned a 3-2 over the Norfolk side to take the Nailers into the round-robin national finals for the sixth successive year.

These will be held at Canterbury HC over the weekend of the April 9/10.

Belper opened the scoring in the eighth minute when Rachel Griffith converted a cross from the left on reverse stick over the diving keeper.

The visitors were in control of the game with having the majority of the possession and there were only occasional forays by the Pelicans into Belper territory.

However, at one of these incursions, a lack of pressure on the player in possession and some other indecisive play saw the ball end up in the Nailers’ goal in a muddled manner.

This roused the Pelicans into a much more attacking mood and the remainder of the half was an even contest.

Belper had not been firing on all cylinders in the first period and a shuffle of the players plus a change in the tactical formation saw Toman burst into the circle in the first minute of the second half and Becky Hawkins slide the ball home.

On 54 minutes Belper stretched their lead to two goals when Nat Tipper saw her deflection saved at a penalty corner but she was quickly to the rebound to take the ball past the keeper and flick it over the line.

The cushion on the game allowed several of the substitutes pitch time and the significant contributions of Naomi Cotterill, Brie Parkin, Maddy Wood and Cerys Parkin all showed that they have the ability to make an impact at this level.

Pelicans reduced the deficit to a single goal at an overtime penalty corner, the award of which was hotly contested by the Belper players as the ball had hit a stick and not a foot as the umpire thought.