Evo-Stik League First Division South
Belper Town 3
Leek Town 5
It wasn’t the result that manager Andy Carney would have wanted in his last game in charge of Belper Town, but his side gave everything for the cause in a very entertaining end-of-season clash with Leek Town.
Carney was hoping to finish the season – and his three and a half year tenure – on a high with a third consecutive victory.
While attention turned to Carney’s successor, another important personnel change had already taken place with new chairman Vaughan Williams having taken over from long serving Phil Varney a couple of weeks ago.
Such has been Belper’s form in the last few weeks that the team has been picking itself, although the unavailability of Charlie Weir forced one change with Andy Rushbury coming in for his 294th appearance for the club.
Leek were awarded a penalty in the second minute when Ali Barcherini rushed out to meet Paul Rutter, and although he seemed to get to the ball first, Rutter fell to the floor and the referee pointed to the penalty spot.
Barcherini’s vehement protestations came to no avail and earned him a yellow card. Rutter had the final say when he squeezed home the spotkick under the Belper ‘keeper’s despairing dive.
Darryl Thomas made an excellent run down the right in the tenth minute and almost found Jon Froggatt with a great cross to the edge of the six-yard area, and, as the ball came out to Lee Thompson, he hit a screamer that took a slight deflection over the crossbar.With Belper calling all the shots in these early stages it came as a blow when Leek went further ahead in the 13th minute as Dan Cope turned and volleyed firmly past Barcherini after being given far too much time and space to execute his effort.
Jon Froggatt struck a low drive just past the far post on 18 minutes as the Nailers continued to take the initiative, and the same player nodded a difficult opportunity into the side netting from a Lee Thompson free kick.
Barcherini saved the Nailers from going three down as they were caught short at the back in the 30th minute, and it was Dan Cope’s overhead kick that wrongfooted everyone and Wayne Corden was free to take aim, but Barcherini blocked the shot brilliantly.
Belper looked certain to score in the 35th minute when Darryl Thomas’s shot came back off the post and then Matt Plant’s follow-up effort was blocked on the goalline.
Ruben Wiggins-Thomas moved in to head the ball down at the near post but it bounced up and over the angle, and after this play became scrappy towards the end of the half with Leek looking well organised at the back.
The Nailers had a let-off in the 48th minute after Devon Gibson slipped past Liam Davis before crossing to the unmarked Dan Cope who missed the target.
Cope did much better with a snapshot two minutes later that fizzed past the upright.
The task became much harder in the 55th minute when Paul Rutter stretched to toepoke a wayward Cope effort into the net, and the response from the bench was to replace Andy Rushbury and Jamie Smith with Luke Fedorenko and Matty Thorpe.
Paris Simmons was introduced minutes later and soon made his mark with a shot from just outside the penalty area that went in off the post on 65 minutes. Then a minute later Jamie Haynes tripped Luke Fedorenko inside the area, leaving Jon Froggatt to claim his 30th goal of the season from the penalty spot.
But Leek restored a two-goal advantage in the 71st minute when Dan Cope snapped up his second goal of the afternoon from close range, questioning the Nailers’ ability to close the gap again in the remaining minutes.
Paul Rutter completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot in the 80th minute after the Nailers conceded a foul just inside the box. It was proving a pulsating end to the season, and there was a final piece of drama as Paris Simmons struck a third goal for the Nailers in added-on time.
It was a shame outgoing manager Andy Carney couldn’t finish on a win but his team’s performances, particularly over the last few weeks at least, allowed him to leave with his head held high.
Belper Town: Barcherini, Pride, Davis (Simmons 63), Thompson, Plant, Adams, Wiggins-Thomas, Smith (Thorpe 60), Froggatt, Thomas, Rushbury (Fedorenko 60). Unused subs: Barnard, Carney.
Referee: Bob Martin (Sheffield)
Match Sponsor: Boxall, Brown and Jones.
Man of the Match: Jon Froggatt