Frustrated Belper Town’s indifferent start to the new season continued with a 2-1 defeat at home to local-derby rivals Gresley in a game of two red cards on Bank Holiday Monday.
Both sides had players sent off as the Nailers suffered their second consecutive reverse at The Marston’s Stadium. It followed a goalless draw at Chasetown on Saturday, leaving them with four points from their four games so far in Division One South of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League.
As they sit 12th in the table, they are in need of a confidence boost when they travel to meet Hednesford Town in the First Qualifying Round of the Emirates FA Cup on Saturday.
Belper were in control for most of the first half against Gresley, but struggled to break down a solid defence, with early chances for Alex Steedman and Jonathan Williams being foiled by visiting goalkeeper Rob Peet.
They were surely given the upper hand in the 23rd minute when a strong tackle by Gresley’s Dexter Morris-Clarke on John Guy led to him being sent off by Sutton-in-Ashfield referee Steven Abbott. But such an advantage was wiped out with a double-whammy on the cusp of half-time when Belper not only saw red themselves but also conceded the game’s first goal. Guy was shown his second yellow card of the afternoon after he was deemed to have handled in the box for a penalty that Gresley winger Pearson Mwanyongo tucked away perfectly into the top left-hand corner of the net.
The lightning pace and tricky footwork of Mwanyongo caused the Nailers problems all game. And although Belper went close to an equaliser in the opening moment of the second half, when Eric Graves’s volley was well saved by Peet, it wasn’t long before the dangerous Mwanyongo was doubling the visitors’ lead.
This time he picked the ball up on the halfway line and, as a succession of defenders failed to close him down, the winger cruised into the area before finishing coolly.
Belper gave themselves a lifeline ten minutes later when halving the deficit. Williams’s free-kick on the left was met by the unmarked Charlie Gatter, whose header floated into the bottom corner.
They continued to press the Gresley defence and a glorious chance of an equaliser fell to Steedman, whose shot was well blocked by Peet, with the follow-up being smashed over the bar.
The best opportunity, however, came minutes later -- and again it dropped to Steedman. He rose highest to powerfully head a cross to the far post goalwards, but somehow, Peet tipped his effort away for a corner.
The Nailers piled on more pressure, with Steedman bursting through the Gresley backline for a weak shot that Peet dealt with easily, and then Gatter having a half-chance with a header that flew fractionally wide.
However, the visitors held on to extend their unbeaten start to the new campaign, and they even went close to adding to their lead when Reece Morris cut inside for a ferocious shot that beat ‘keeper Danny Haystead but clattered the junction of post and bar.
BELPER TOWN LINE-UP -- Haystead/ Bryant, Guy, Graves (Ball 79), Gatter, Watt, Constable (Allen 45), Williams, Wiggins-Thomas, Hollis, Steedman. SUBS NOT USED: Palmer J., Palmer G., Armstrong.
THE match at Chasetown was an intense affair in which neither side could force a winner. But at least it stretched Belper’s unbeaten record at the Scholars Ground to seven games.
Charlie Palmer’s side claimed their point too despite a couple of worrying injuries midway through the opening half when both Matt Richards and Ross Parker had to leave the field. Thankfully, Phil Watt, making his 100th appearance for the club, was able to keep the home side at bay, soaking up a succession of long balls aimed at their forwards.
A sudden downpour of rain at the end of the first half made the surface very difficult in the second period and led to Steedman missing a decent chance as he slipped when he was about to shoot.
Chasetown defender Matt Wood was sent off for a crunching tackle on Graves, but they held on for a point, although Belper went close when a crashing volley by Williams was brilliantly palmed away by the home ‘keeper, John Bateman.