Opening day horrors are banished by first victory

Belper 2, Leek 1

BELPER Hockey Club men’s first team shook off a week of injury worry to record their first league win of the season and banish the heavy opening day defeat.

Thankfully come Saturday all injury worries had been forgotten and a fully fit squad was available to coach Mark Lamb for his first home game in charge.

The squad remained largely the same from the previous week with a couple of changes aimed at rectifying the issues experienced at Doncaster.

The fixture with Leek is a typically feisty affair that both sides seem to relish and today’s match was to be no different.

Lamb reshuffled the defence and midfield in an attempt to deny Leek any space in the middle of the pitch.

With the pitch freshly watered and a better warm-up than the previous week under the belts, Belper took to the field with the intention of making the Meadows a ‘fortress’ for the coming season.

The initial exchanges were cagey but Belper, showing good purpose, were the first to threaten with Leek captain and goalkeeper Mark Brazier being called upon to kick clear on a couple of occasions.

Chris Hall and David Ebbage had some success on the left flank and Leek struggled to contain Ebbage’s pace and Hall’s aerial passes.

The lack of possession told on the Leek front line as Ben White made a late and clumsy challenge on Chris Hall that resulted in a green card and a two-minute rest for the forward.

Whilst down to ten men Leek actually played the better hockey with Belper guilty of pushing a bit too hard and gifting possession.

As Leek returned to full strength Belper also settled and began to win some penalty corners. The first was not stopped but the second drew a good deflection from a Leek defender that saw the ball taken wide of the post from Hawkes; powerful shot.

Leek responded and Slane had to be alert to thwart White in a one-on-one situation and also to clear the danger when Richard Corden threatened.

Jake Bullock and Richard Kitchen were pulling the strings across the backline and their ball speed was something the Leek frontline struggled with when they tried to press the ball.

On one occasion Luke Davies managed to collect the ball and evade two tackles before shooting only to see Brazier turn his shot around the post for a long corner.

From the resulting long corner Belper managed to work the ball into the circle to Nick Morris who led extremely well to find the space to collect the ball and turn and fire a quick shot under the ‘keeper to give his side a well deserved 1-0 lead on 33 minutes.

Belper really should have built further on this as a couple of opportunities presented themselves but were not taken.

Leek responded by packing out the defence and the half ended without further incident except for the umpires having a word with the Leek skipper about the amount of back chat they were receiving.

This week’s team talk was a lot easier at half time with the strong message from coach Lamb for ‘more of the same’.

Belper started the second half much as they had the first playing commanding hockey and probing the Leek defence.

They had a couple of early opportunities but were unable to take advantage with the ball going over the backline or past the far post on too many occasions.

The lead was doubled on 53 minutes when one attack resulted in a free hit just outside the Leek circle. As James Blackwell took the free hit, the movement in the circle by the Belper forwards was too much for Leek to handle and a pass found Nick Morris neatly positioned on the near post. He collected the ball and shot at the goal only for the ball to ricochet off Brazier’s chest and back to Morris. With umpire Lyttle playing a good advantage Morris gladly took the chance at the second attempt calmly knocking the ball into the net on the volley.

Leek’s frustrations spilled over at times. First Ben White was yellow carded for another clumsy challenge and then Wesley Weston received a yellow card for verbals aimed at umpire Lyttle.

From here on the game deteriorated for the spectator as play was constantly broken down and discipline compromised on far too many occasions.

On one such occasion Luke Davies attempted to

ake a free hit quickly but there was confusion as both umpires had awarded the decision differently. With Leek appealing and neither umpire taking firm control, Luke’s frustration was understandable at being belatedly penalised. But knocking the ball away resulted in Luke receiving a yellow card and a 15 minute suspension for ill-discipline as he left the pitch.

As Belper were left with ten men for the remainder of the game, Leek pushed hard and were rewarded when Dan O’Neill hammered the ball home after a couple of unkind deflections left Slane and Hawkes completely wrong footed on 68 minutes.

With only two minutes to go, Belper gained and retained possession to see the game out and claim their first home victory and three points of the season.

Belper travel to Olton & West Warwicks on Saturday (October 1) for a 1.30 start. All support would be very welcome.