Managerless Belper Town continued their fine form by defeating EvoStik South League rivals Spalding United 2-1 to leapfrog them in the table and make it three successive wins.
Caretaker manager Dylan Garnett took charge again, while the permanent role is still vacant, and unsurprisingly his team selection was almost identical from the previous week’s victory with just Max Thornberry replacing Jorge Knowles.
Poor pitch conditions led to a sluggish start to the game, which lacked any zip or pace.
Garnett admitted: “The pitch was a bit heavy, which made it more difficult to move the ball around.”
Spalding looked to crosses as their main ammunition of attack and from one the ball fell kindly in the box for former Belper player Jamie Jackson, who was denied from close-range by Danny Roberts.
Belper’s first meaningful attack saw Alex Steadman surge in from the left and square to Dylan Garnett, whose shot was blocked. The ball went to Kieran O’Connell and his effort was smothered expertly by Michael Duggan.
John Guy pulled off one of many perfectly-timed challenges to deny Gary King, highlighting his a quality captain’s performance.
Garnett has galvanised the team since stepping up and new-found confidence began to build throughout.
He said after the game: “If you are winning games you are more confident and feel better about your football.”
That paid dividends for the opening goal as Will Dennis’s long-range arrowed strike was pushed by Duggan into the path of O’Connell, who finished first-time on 37 minutes.
Despite a largely untroubled half for the Nailers, Spalding fashioned a couple of half chances through Jackson — heading into the hands of Roberts and shooting from long-range — who showed signs of why Belper previously had him on their books.
The Nailers were straight out of the blocks in the second half, shocking the Spalding system.
Five minutes in Garnett’s son, Dylan, cleverly found Leandro Browne, who in turn laid the ball off to Steadman. The rejuvenated striker stabbed the ball just over the line, despite the efforts of the covering defender, to double the home side’s advantage.
The caretaker boss changed the system to give the back-four a little more protection and the side a platform to go forward and express themselves.
Browne was bubbling throughout, cutting inside on one occasion and testing the keeper.
Garnett snr said: “The formation allowed the front players the freedom to play. You earn the right to play, which we have done.”
The Tulips’ rarely blossomed, but grabbed a lifeline on 70 minutes after an accurate cross met the head of substitute Jonny Lockie, who steered past Roberts.
Browne skewed over from six yards out as he had a clear opportunity to make it 3-1.
That allowed the visitors to mount pressure in search of an equaliser. Lee Beeson’s freekick went all the way through without a touch and clipped the outside of the post.
In the final minute Lockie found space inside the area to shoot, but Roberts blocked.
Despite the nervy final 15 minutes, Garnett was content with his side’s performance.
“The most satisfying thing is when it came back to 2-1 we showed a lot of spirit to keep going and close the game out,” he said.
“When our backs were against the wall, they worked really hard for each other.
“The platform for the new manager is good. There’s a good squad with young players coming through.
Belper Town: Roberts, Thornberry, Goddard, Allen, Guy, Harrison, Browne (Birks 77), Dennis, Steadman (Hutchinson 84), O’Connell, Garnett. Unused subs: Barr-Rostron, Butcher, Rathbone.
Spalding United: Duggan, Fixter (Spafford 71), Jackson, Davison, Humble, Walker, Maddison (Neil 63), Beeson, King, Jackson (Lockie 45), Acar. Unused subs: Smith.
Ref: Mark Tinsley