Shellshocked Belper Town’s reputation for having one of the meanest defences in the league was blown away in an embarrassing 7-1 defeat at Basford United on April Fool’s Day.
Before the game, the Nailers’ goals-against record was the fourth best in the First Division South of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League.
But despite taking an early lead, they were blitzed by promotion-chasing Basford, who really turned the screw once defender Phil Watt had been sent off early in the second half.
Despite a slip-up against Stocksbridge Park Steels in midweek, when they lost 2-1, Charlie Palmer’s side made the journey into Nottinghamshire full of confidence after a superb victory over tabletopping Shaw Lane the previous Saturday.
And that confidence rose when they made a brilliant start, courtesy of Evan Garnett, who latched on to a terrific ball forward by Eric Graves to roll the ball under the Basford ‘keeper for an excellent finish in the 13th minute.
The goal came only a minute after Ruben Wiggins-Thomas had struck a post with a volley and Watt, reacting quickly inside the box, had blazed the rebound over the bar.
Once in front, Belper dominated and Alex Steadman went close to extending the lead when his deflected wide went agonisingly wide. They continued to create chances, and Basford, who had won 13 of their 19 home matches this term, looked to be heading for a severe examination in front of a crowd of 189.
However, the Greenwich Avenue outfit were handed a lifeline amid controversy in the 27th minute. Initially, a volley by former Mansfield Town man Ben Hutchinson was flagged offside by one of the referee’s assistants. But after long discussions, the referee overruled him and awarded the goal to Basford.
It was just the spark they needed and they proceeded to go into the half-time interval 2-1 to the good when Hutchinson struck again, leaving Belper with an uphill task to overturn the deficit.
The opening spell of the second half can only be described as disastrous for the Nailers. Within two minutes, Matt Thornhill made it 3-1 to Basford and just a couple of minutes later came Watt’s dismissal. He went in for a high and reckless challenge, leaving the referee with no option but to show the centre-back a red card.
Basford were in the mood to rub salt into Belper’s wounds now, and in the 55th minute, Hutchinson completed a quickfire hat-trick to make sure he was going home with the match ball.
At 4-1 down, Belper had little to play for but pride and, to their credit, they continued to battle away. However, it all went pear-shaped in the last ten minutes when they caved in and leaked three more goals.
Tyrell Shannon-Lewis netted the first, rounding goalkeeper Scott Low before tucking the ball into the back of the net. Five minutes later, Kieran Wells bagged number six and as the tiring legs of the ten-man Nailers began to show, Kieran Fenton completed the Basford rout with their seventh in the 88th minute.
Belper, who remain 12th in the table, must now hope the whole experience was a freaskish one-off as they try to pick themselves up for their final five matches of the league campaign, which begins with a trip to Shaw Lane on Tuesday night.
This Saturday, they are away again, at Bedworth United, before playing host to Kidsgrove Athletic on Saturday, April 15. Two days later, on Easter Monday, they travel to Sheffield before wrapping up their campaign on April 22 at home to Chasetown.