Unhappy manager Jimmy Albans blasted his players for their lack of commitment and desire as their Emirates FA Cup dreams evaporated in a surprise defeat.
In front of a crowd of 205, Belper went down 3-1 in the First Qualifying Round at home to Nottinghamshire side Dunkirk, who play one level lower on the non-league ladder in the Premier Division of the Midland League. And Albans did not mince his words as the possibility of a money-spinning run in the world-famous competition disappeared.
“It was like watching a different team to the one that had showed the passion and character at Spalding during the week when we had ten men for 80 minutes,” said the boss. “It was obvious how much we missed Tom Liversedge, whose hold-up play is vital. But the players we put out certainly had enough to win the tie if they applied themselves correctly.”
The only positive consolation for Albans was that it was the first match since August 22 in which The Nailers have not had a player sent off.
But after a run of four red cards, suspensions will soon be coming thick and fast, and the Belper boss could be ready to give first-team experience to the club’s promising youngsters in the U21 and academy sides.
“I watched the U21s against Ilkeston last Thursday night, and I was very impressed,” said Albans. “There looked to be some good players pushing for the first team. I have always said that if a player is good enough, he will get his chance.”
The star of the show for Dunkirk was their former Nottingham Forest midfielder Eugen Bopp. The 32-year-old ex-Germany U19 international, who made 77 appearances for Forest between 2001 and 2006, opened the scoring in the 15th minute. He took advantage of some generous Belper defending to turn in the box and fire low past ‘keeper Danny Haystead.
The away side doubled their lead ten minutes into the second half through wideman Will Coutts, who cut inside from the right and finished low into the bottom corner with his left foot after good work by striker Kevin Hemagou.
Belper responded immediately when frontman Rob Stevenson dribbled his way through the centre of the defence to smash home from the edge of the area. But any hopes of a fightback were dashed in the 63rd minute when Dunkirk restored their two-goal cushion. This time, Haystead saved in a one-on-one with Hemagou, only to spill the ball to the feet of Tristram Whitman, who tapped home.
Belper did create a couple of chances late on, with substitute Anton Wedderburn awkwardly turning the ball over from six yards. But in truth, Dunkirk were in control throughout.
BELPER LINE-UP (4-4-2) -- Haystead/ Puricoe, Watt, Lister, Matthews/ Fairclough, Wilson, Towey, Johnson/ Stevenson, Garnett. SUBS: Wedderburn (for Johnson 67), Taylor (for Stevenson 90), Constable, Cooksey, Marshall.