Sheffield FC 1
Belper Town 5
Belper Town produced a sparkling performance that contrasted sharply with the drab Boxing Day weather, scoring five goals, including a hat-trick from substitute Jon Froggatt.
On a pitch saturated by the downpours of the previous week, the match started in heavy rain with many amateur weather forecasters in the stadium casting doubts on whether a full 90 minutes would be possible.
In the end, the match was completed and the Belper supporters amongst the drenched 303 inside the BT Local Business Stadium were treated to a sublime performance of controlled football from the Nailers.
This was a million miles apart from the turgid showing in the midweek League Cup defeat at Ossett Town and it was clear that some important words and actions from the management team in the interim had contributed to the tangible improvement in the team’s approach to the game.
Eric Graves made his second debut for the club and was instrumental in the improved showing with an all-action display of tackling, covering and passing that set the tempo for the overall performance.
But it would be wrong to single out individuals on a day when all 11 players gave everything in the heavy conditions to produce a result that will have surprised many in the game.
Was it a question of the Nailers being particularly good or were the hosts having an unexpectedly bad day at the office?
The answer probably lies somewhere in between those extremities but what is absolutely clear is that Belper fully deserved their goals and ultimate victory while the hosts will be wondering just what has happened to their early season form.
The Nailers started off like a house on fire and forced Sheffield on the back foot from the off.
They has already spurned a number of good early opportunities, many of which revolved around the excellent link-up play of striker Mark Ward and the purposeful running of Daryll Thomas and Eric Graves, as the Nailers laid siege to the home goal.
Shaun Roulston had seen his goalbound shot cleared off the line by Ben Turner while Colin Marrison had another presentable chance saved by the legs of home goalkeeper Liam Flynn.
The Nailers were eventually rewarded for their enterprising start when Karl Colley’s quick free-kick was slipped to Steve Warne, who in turn found Mark Ward, whose pinpoint lay-off allowed Colin Marrison to fire Belper into 21st minute lead from the narrowest of angles.
Belper could have extended their lead on the half-hour mark when Ward was unfortunate to see his goalbound shot deflect off a home defender onto the goalpost and eventually into the arms of grateful ‘keeper Flynn.
At the other end, Sheffield’s recent signing Jack Muldoon was doing his level best to inject some attacking intent, despite the frugal service provided to him.
A ferocious shot from 20 yards out whistled inches over the crossbar and when he found space to burst through the Nailers rearguard, ‘keeper Aaron Chapman denied him with a brave block to keep Belper’s lead intact.
Muldoon again tested Chapman with an enterprising run that took him past three defensive challenges but the Belper ‘keeper managed to hold onto the ball at the second attempt.
Chapman then showed why his height is such a great commodity when he stretched to palm away a dangerous cross from former Matlock full back Lee Featherstone.
But Belper soaked up the early second half pressure and eventually extended their lead after 58 minutes with something of a fluke goal when Simon Harrison’s cross deceived a bemused Flynn and landed inside the far post.
Almost immediately, Muldoon was unlucky for the hosts with a powerful free kick that cannoned back off the crossbar and it was clear the Nailers were not yet home and dry, literally and metaphorically.
But, after 59 minutes, Jon Froggatt entered the fray and stared to wipe away the disappointment and frustration of a pre-season knee injury that had kept him out of competitive action for nearly four months.
He made his presence count after 77 minutes when he scored with a low shot after Eric Graves had set up the opportunity. To be honest, it wasn’t the most sweetly struck shot of his career but it had just enough to defeat the hapless Flynn.
Sheffield gave themselves a glimmer of hope when substitute Aaron Rice fired in an unstoppable goal after 80 minutes and the hosts started to believe that there was still something in the game for them.
But Froggatt added his second from the penalty spot after fellow substitute Shaun Tuton was upended by Elliott Green and the hosts now knew that the game was up.
Froggatt completed his hat-trick in the final minute when he latched onto Tuton’s throughball to place his shot low past the advancing ‘keeper and send the rainsoaked Belper supporters into raptures.
There is something about wet and windy days at the home of the world’s first football club as the Nailers always seem to thrive on the atmosphere generated by a healthy crowd.
This was another in the sequence of Belper successes to be savoured in downtown Dronfield.
Sheffield: Flynn, Turner, Featherstone, Foster, Hadfield, Green, Burrell, Wall (Roney 54), Muldoon, Powell, Woolley (Rice 70). Other Subs: Adam, Woodhouse, McKenzie.
Belper Town: Chapman, Pride, Wright, Marrison, Roulston, Colley, Harrison (Rushbury 71), Warne, Ward (Tuton 76), Thomas (Froggatt 59), Graves. Other subs: Stirrup, Ratcliffe
Referee; Michael Connell (Glasshoughton)
(PHOTO BY TIM HARRISON)