Belper Hockey Club 1
The 2012/13 England Hockey National Conference North got underway on Saturday with Belper taking on close rivals Leek at the Meadows sports ground in glorious weather.
This game was to be the first for Sam Hawkes as captain with Richard Kitchen having stepped down from the role at the end of last season.
The side that took to the pitch had a familiar look to it with a back four made up of Bullock, Blackwell, Lamb and Hawkes. Steve Batten was handed his Belper debut in midfield alongside Kitchen and Inshaw. A front three of Nick Morris, Adam Innocent and Ben Walton rounded off the starting line-up.
Any meeting with Leek is a close contest and this game did not disappoint. Right from the off, both sets of players looked to impose themselves on the game and enjoyed periods of possession.
Belper worked the ball well and created the first chances of the match with Walton hitting a post and Morris forcing Leek ‘keeper Mark Brazier into a smart save low to his right.
Leek pressed the Belper defence for a prolonged period but were unable to break down the defensive barrier with Bullock and Lamb instrumental in keeping their opponents at bay. From one such defensive position, David Ebbage was able to carry the ball on a counter attack after a great release from Blackwell. Ebbage was able to fire the ball across to Rich Cassidy, who unleashed a quick reverse stick shot that forced another good save from Brazier.
With Belper on top for most of the first half, Leek were only able to generate a single penalty corner for their efforts but saw their flicked effort saved by Slane in the home goal. As Belper imposed themselves on the game, Blackwell and Inshaw were able to move forward with more freedom allowing Kitchen to act as a holding midfield player and mop up and loose play.
Belper made it to half-time clearly on top and with the Leek side starting to become frustrated. It was 0–0 at half time.
The Belper team talk was all about making the right decisions at the right time, remaining mentally calm throughout the rest of the match and being patient.
The second half started much as the first with both sides looking for an early opener and a high pace of play. Leek looked to press the Belper backline and looked to ‘split’ them when the ball was moved to the right but Sam Hawkes was key in repelling this move with his excellent distribution.
Luke Davies was also excellent when called on to make a couple of quality tackles and passes from the right back position.
The game became very tight with neither side wanting to give an inch, leading to some scrappy play. Steve Batten received a green card for not being five yards from a Leek free hit and was sin-binned for two minutes. Belper re-grouped after this and started to push for the all-important goal.
After some good work by Ebbage and young Alex Robey (making his National League debut), Nick Morris was unfortunate not to open the scoring with a rebound off the ‘keeper’s pads.
As the game wore on, Belper were clearly on top and were creating the better opportunities. From one such attack, Belper felt they should have had a penalty stroke when they felt a goalbound shot was stopped illegally by a foot. Unfortunately, the umpire did not see the offence and played on. In previous seasons, this may have been the fuel for Belper to self-destruct but this is a different side and remained calm. Sure enough another opportunity arrived just a couple of minutes later.
Starting on the left with Bullock, the ball was worked through midfield to Nick Morris on the left who drew a defender and slipped the ball to an on-rushing Ben Inshaw, who hammered the ball home from eight yards in the 66th minute. The umpire awarded the goal despite some vocal protests from Leek that resulted in a yellow card for Paul Dawson. Belper were able to close the game out for the remaining four minutes and celebrated at the final whistle.
Coach Duncan Woods was understandably happy at the result of his first league match in charge; “It was a great result for us against a battling Leek side. What pleased me most was our discipline and patience. We knew the goal would come and we just had to ensure that we were going to be in a position to take it when the time arrived.”
Captain Sam Hawkes echoed his coach’s sentiments: “It was a vital win for us today and one that we can take great heart from. I was very proud of all my players today and they deserve the three points.”
Belper take on Olton next Sunday in what promises to be an exciting match.