Belper Town marched on into Saturday’s playoff final against Mickleover Sports, a game which they will host, after producing a stunning 2-0 away victory at Leek Town in the playoff semi-final on Wednesday night, writes Joe Malone.
It was a game of tremendous quality from both sides and a brilliant advertisement for the Evo-Stik Leagues, in front of a crowd of 815.
Manager Peter Duffield went with a full strength side as Phil Watt and Dan White partnered up at centre half, with Chris Jones and James Cullingworth starting at fullback.
Simon Harrison retained his place in the starting line-up ahead of Aaron Cole, and Mark Ward replaced Kieran Wells to lead the line with Jon Froggatt.
The first half showed good measured football by both sides, with Leek Town shading the majority of possession throughout. It was the home side who had the better of the chances too, and the first came after just three minutes when a free kick by Matt Bell was defended well by the wall to block away the fierce shot.
Two minutes later, Colin Marrison turned neatly inside from the left touchline to fire in a right footed shot which blazed two yards over.
The Nailers then forced Ben Chapman into his first serious save of the game after 21 minutes. A James Cullingworth cross from the left hand side was bent in over the head of Froggatt, where Simon Harrison arrived late to loop his header towards the top corner, only for Chapman to backpedal and tip the ball over the bar.
The Nailers defended extremely well throughout the game and reduced their opponents to chances only from dead ball situations.
Marrison then gave away a cheap free kick, twenty five yards from goal after 27 minutes. Left fullback Matt Bell, who would take all the set pieces for Leek, lined up the shot right of centre and curled in a brilliant effort which bought the very best out of Scot Low who plunged towards his left hand post to palm the ball away for a corner.
Ten minutes later Leek were awarded a free kick in an almost identical position to the one before, again giving Matt Bell the chance to test the Nailers goalkeeper.
This time, Bell swung his free kick low towards the far left post which evaded everybody, going all the way to hit the inside of the post and rebound out, which to the Nailers relief was cleared well away from danger by Phil Watt.
The second half was very much the same as the first, a good quality match up with both sides looking for spaces that were few and far between.
Jon Froggatt had two half chances in the first 15 minutes of the restart.
The first, a good cross from Chris Jones after a cut back by Harrison was whipped in for Froggatt who hit the first time volley, only for Karl Espley to block the shot well. The second chance came after a clever cross from Marrison on the left hand side was looped in on the half bounce, which Froggatt aimed a glancing header towards the far post, however he could only steer the ball two inches wide.
John Johnston then woke his side up after cutting in from the left to drive a rasping shot towards the far top corner, in which Scot Low produced another brilliant save to tip the ball away.
With the thought of extra time looming on the game, one wondered what it might take to open the scoring for either side, until an inspired substitution would answer any questions in double quick time.
Aaron Cole, who had only been on the pitch for 14 minutes, had the chance to set up a free kick situation from the left hand side on his right foot, posing confusion in the Leek defence. Many players would have taken the safe option from this angle and lifted the ball into the box for their team mates to attack, however Aaron Cole had different ideas. A slight, two man wall was constructed by the Leek Town goalkeeper, and Aaron Cole sought the initiative to curl a low teasing strike towards the near post which Chapman struggled to deal with, resulting in the ball being fumbled into the back of the net, sending the Nailers supported into wild celebrations.
Naturally, Leek then began to throw everything they had at the Nailers defence, which continued to stand firm. Then, with four minutes remaining, Belper doubled their lead in quite stupendous fashion.
A loose ball by Dan Shelley was picked up centrally by Steve Warne, who took at touch and drove a low through ball with the outside of his right foot. Jon Froggatt had peeled off his defender and burst into space to latch onto the ball at full stretch. The number 9 then took on the goalkeeper around the outside, and chipped the last defender to stab the ball into the back of the empty net and draw the curtains on the Evo-Stik play off semi-final.