EHL Men’s Conference North
Belper 4, Preston 3
BELPER men first XI were in danger of throwing away a commanding lead in their Conference League North National League game for the second successive week.
Having lead 2-0 they found themselves 3-2 down with five minutes to go, but late goals from Richard Kitchen and Sam Hawkes sealed the points in a 4-3 win over the league new boys who had made an impressive start.
The only changes to the previous week’s squad were the re-introduction of Chris Hall and Nick Morris to the squad due to the unavailability of Jake Bullock and Toby Hooker due to representative duties.
Rich Cassidy also retained his place after his impressive performance the previous week.
Coach Mark Lamb took the opportunity to try an experimental formation aimed at preventing the opposition from ‘flooding’ the midfield.
This involved playing a flat back three and two holding midfield players. This meant new roles for Sam Hawkes and James Blackwell sitting deeper than in previous matches.
As the game got underway it was a keen Belper side that made the early running moving the ball at pace and finding the forward’s runs with ease.
The first opportunity fell to Belper and required the Preston ‘keeper to kick clear Cassidy’s effort.
The first goal arrived after eight minutes when a flowing move saw the ball moved quickly from the back through David Ebbage at left midfield and up to Luke Davies and Rich Cassidy. Having outfoxed the Preston defence good decisions by Davies and then Cassidy saw the ball arrive at an unmarked Tom Sherratt on the right hand side of the circle.
Tom aimed a pass to the far post for an awaiting Belper striker only for the Preston ‘keeper to try and cut the ball out. The keeper half managed this but also diverted t ball into his own goal. A relieved but happy Tom Sherratt was able to celebrate his first league goal of the season and it was 1-0.
Preston reacted by earning a penalty corner very quickly after the Belper goal that drew a good save from Slane.
However, with their tails up Belper quickly moved to impose their dominance further with much more flowing play being assisted by good passing.
From one Blackwell pass Morris earned a penalty corner. The corner worked well with the drag out and stop from Morris allowing Hawkes the time to unleash a powerful strike towards goal.
The Preston defence were simply unable to deal with his power and Hawkes saw his strike hit a the foot of the covering defender on the line. The umpire awarded the penalty stroke.
For the second successive week Belper had been awarded a penalty stroke while their primary stroke taker had been off the pitch. As such Blackwell stepped into Davies’ shoes for the penalty. Looking to improve on his effort the previous week, Blackwell sent the keeper the wrong way and scored easily for 2-0 on 18 minutes.
Preston reacted strongly and they won their second penalty corner. Belper had disputed the corner but Umpire Kirk was right on the spot to see the ball strike Hall’s arm.
The Preston routine was slick again and this time saw Adam Wilson fire his shot low past Slane to reduce the deficit to 2 -1 after 28 minutes.
The remainder of the half was seen out with just one moment of worry for Belper. Kitchen turning the ball over in the middle of the park but he made up for the error by safely deflecting the ball wide of the goal after the Preston attack.
The half time team talk was a positive one from Lamb encouraging the team to do the simple things well and also look to move the ball early.
Unfortunately the second half started much as it had against Olton the previous week with too many misplaced passes and an opposition willing to chase after any cause. Belper side were no longer enjoying the space in midfield they had enjoyed from the outset of the match.
Instead they were harried and pressed by marauding groups of Preston players. Preston’s new tactics were reducing the impact the Belper side could make on the game if they did not hold on to possession.
Too often Belper found the ball coming back at them moments after winning possession. This led to the Belper legs having to work harder and thus tiring quicker.
On one occasion the ball was turned over while Belper were moving out of defence on the left.
This left the Belper defence outnumbered and a simple passing move saw the ball arrive with Thomas Galloway unmarked in the Belper circle. Thomas fired his shot low past an exposed Slane to equalise at 2-2 on 49 minutes.
Belper heads visibly dropped at this point with the spectre of another wasted lead hanging over them.
After 56 minutes, the inevitable happened. A good move by Preston saw the ball just reach their forward on the backline to be tackled by Hawkes. Hawkes felt he was impeded as he fell to the ground by the Preston forward who played the ball into the Sam’s leg.
The umpire awarded the corner and Hawkes was lucky not to get card for his protestations.
Once again Adam Wilson fired past Slane, who got a touch on the flick, to give his side a well deserved 3-2 advantage.
With the match seemingly getting away from Belper, they had to do something to try and change the direction the game was going in.
Kitchen and Blackwell swapped places and Kitchen started to make the running in the midfield while Blackwell was much happier in getting the ball out from the back.
As the Belper side started to play better hockey and push forward some gaps opened up at the back exposing Slane on a number of occasions but he was to remain unbeaten for the rest of the match.
In the 65th minute a passing move reminiscent of the first half saw the ball get to Ben Inshaw on the right who was unceremoniously up ended by the Preston defender and awarded a penalty corner. The defender was not happy and voiced his disapproval at umpire Kirk.
The umpire was left with little option but to yellow card Sullivan for his backchat.
Once again Belper’s routine worked with Blackwell’s shot being neatly deflected into the roof of the net by Richard Kitchen much to the delight of the home crowd and it was 3-3 after 65 minutes.
With Preston down to ten men Belper pushed forward and after some great running, Luke Davies was able to steal the ball from a Preston defender and drive into the circle.
Luke was then upended and was unlucky not to have been awarded the penalty stroke the crowd was calling for. It was just reward for Luke after a tough afternoon’s running.
With only a minute left, the home side’s late resurgence had allowed them a chance of all three points. The routine worked well but Blackwell saw his flick charged down by the runner. The ball broke to Hawkes on the left who shot at the goal with a shot of huge power that none of the Preston defence could do anything about.
As the ball hit the backboard and nestled in the bottom corner for a 4-3 Belper lead, the crowd and players erupted in celebration.
Coach Mark Lamb commented: “e cannot continue to give away possession and goals in the manner we do when we are not on top. Its impossible to dominate every game for 70 minutes each week and we have to recognise where we need to be tighter when we are not playing well.”
Belper take on arch rivals Durham University at Durham next Sunday as they look to build on a positive weekend of results that sees them sitting fourth in the table.