Belper Town started the new season with a narrow 1-0 victory over Morpeth Town, but had to negotiate a backs to the wall second half, made more difficult after Jake Sturgess’s dismissal with nearly 15 minutes to go.
To some extent it was tough on Morpeth who gained promotion into Division One East by virtue of finishing as runners up in the Northern League last season, and they were better than Belper after the break.
Credit is due then to the Nailers’ rearguard who defended well when they had to, and man of the match Max Beardmore, in the Belper goal, was a significant contributor to the eventual 3 points.
Grant Black had his first competitive win; the starting eleven were all making their débuts; it was a first ever match against Morpeth, and it was also the referee’s first appointment at Evo-Stik level.
It was a first competitive win for new chairman Ian Woodward and managing director Dave Laughlin who have done so much, together with others, to get the club back on track during the close season.
Belper may also be the first to use a match ball plinth (Premier League style) and the newly named Silver X stadium had a buzz of optimism that been absent for the past few seasons.
The Nailers started the game well and pushed back their opponents who appeared a little overawed by the occasion, although once they had got into their rhythm, showed that they could well be a force this season.
Marcus Day had a clear opening in the 4th minute but scuffed his shot with the ball rolling to the ‘keeper, and then the visitors took Belper by surprise when Joe Walton ran clear and saw his shot deflected into the side netting.
Max Beardmore made the first of a string of fine saves when he dived at full stretch to deny Jeff Henderson’s header, but from the clearance, Belper caught the visitors on the break and Nathan Curtis converted Piteu Crouz’s unselfish pass from the left.
Adam Burnicle could have done better with an opportunity that fell to him on 20 minutes, then the Nailers appealed loudly for a penalty kick after Piteu Crouz was felled in the penalty area.
Darol Lucas came to Belper’s aid after a Morpeth free kick came out to Jeff Henderson, and Lucas bravely blocked the resulting shot.
The visitors were progressively getting more and more into the game and Beardmore denied Liam Henderson with another super save in the 42nd minute.
Danny Gordon was unlucky to see his free kick touched over by Dan Lowson just before the half time whistle, and the Nailers went into the break deservedly ahead.
Morpeth came out for the second period in a purposeful mood and it took 10 minutes before Belper showed up in the visitors’ penalty area, when Danny South headed a Marcus Day free kick straight at the keeper.
Day saved Belper at the other end minutes later after panic set in following a Steve Foster cross, and as pressure gradually mounted on the Belper defence, Jake Sturgess received a red card following a push on a Morpeth player.
Belper had to dig deep with 10 men and Morpeth pushed on hoping to find a crack in Belper’s rearguard, however it was Belper who nearly scored when Darol Lucas had the ball at his feet barely 10 yards from goal but lost control at the vital moment.
Julian Petrache powered a header wide when it looked as though he should have scored the equaliser, and in the 88th minute Chris Reid’s header from a corner kick thundered off the underside of the cross bar and was cleared to safety.
Substitute Luke Francis had an opportunity to seal victory for the Nailers after he swapped passes with George Milner before shooting agonisingly wide.
Deep into added on time Belper survived a frantic goal mouth scrummage to deny Morpeth once again and the referee’s final whistle came as a welcome relief after nearly eight minutes added time.
Belper Town. Beardmore, Lucas, Johal, Paylor, South, Sturgess, Gordon, Day, Peterson (Francis 81), Curtis (Guy 73), Crouz (Milner 76). Unused subs: Elliott, Clark.
Morpeth Town: Lowson, Foster, Reid, Sayer, Petrache, J Henderson, Carson, Hodgson (Phillips 65), Walton (Potter 76), Henderson L, Burnicle. Unused subs: Carson, MacDonald, Turner.
Referee: Ruebyn Ricardo.