EHL Conference North
AFTER the previous week’s efforts against Bowden in the cup, the Belper side again found themselves travelling up the M6 to Manchester to take on Brooklands in the England Hockey National Conference North.
This was a great chance for Belper to get back to the hard work of earning league points.
The week’s preparation was not ideal with Sam Hawkes breaking a finger, an injury that will see him sidelined until Christmas at the earliest.
On a brighter note the side welcomed back Joe Sharp from his injury lay off after several very strong performances for the 2nd XI and at training.
This was a real boost to the squad which has missed the young maestro’s skills and presence.
The squad also welcomed back Dougie Campbell, another player returning from injury.
With Brooklands sitting in second place in the league and with a wealth of experience from two seasons in the premier league behind them, this was never going to be an easy task for the Nailers.
With yet another beautiful day to play hockey on the side that took to the pitch included Adam Bull at left back, Bullock and skipper Kitchen in the middle and Chris Hall at right back.
The midfield remained unchanged from the previous weeks with Ebbage, Blackwell and Inshaw. The front three consisted of Sherratt sitting just behind Walton and Davies.
The game plan was to limit the opposition’s goal scoring opportunities through denying them penalty corners.
Belper failed to do this with a couple of early lapses in concentration resulting in two early Brooklands’ penalty corners that keeper Neill Slane thwarted.
Some early running from the Belper forwards saw them get decent possession on the right flank of the pitch. As Belper probed, Brooklands’ defence held firm as they packed the defence with numbers and looked to break on the attack.
Brooklands made the breakthrough with their third penalty corner that had been conceded cheaply. Peter Flannagan was the marksman who’s flick nestled in the bottom right corner after a slick routine in the 21st minute.
Unfortunately this set back only served to spur Brooklands on who added a further four goals in 14 minutes.
Three of these goals came from open play. An area of the game Belper had been particularly strong in denying in previous league matches.
These goals were generated by Brooklands feeding off poor basics on the Belper side.
As the half wore on, the Brooklands forwards work rate wore down the Belper resistance and for the first time this season, fitness appeared to be an issue.
Too many gaps opened up at the back for Belper and the marking was simply not up to the standard required.
In an effort to chase the game down Belper tried desperately to get the ball forward but too often the Brooklands defence and midfield could step in front of static Belper players and intercept the pass. Placing them immediately under pressure again.
Going into half-time five goals down to a team in the same league is not a good feeling and one that needed to addressed.
The second half was all about salvaging pride but it started much as the first had ended with Brooklands showing no sign of dropping the intensity of their press and work rate.
Too often the Belper side were stretched the length and breadth of the pitch, allowing the Brooklands’ playmakers the space they needed to dictate play.
Although under immense pressure the back four still defended well and were unlucky to see the ball coming back at them so many times after they had won possession and tried to move it forward.
The introduction of Joe Sharpe and James Blackwell to the backline enabled the Nailers to counter the Brooklands press more efficiently.
Adam Innocent introduced at right midfield after Ben Inshaw was green carded for a non-tackle started to find room to move forward and a couple of attacks generated a chance for Rich Cassidy who missed for just a few yards out without troubling the ‘keeper.
This was as good as it was to get for Belper as Brooklands wrapped up their win with another two goals from penalty corners in the 38th and 50th minute.
Belper need to learn from the mistakes they are making at the moment.
Too often passes were slow, enabling them to be cut out, and passes that were of sufficient pace were too often misdirected.
It was a sloppy performance from a side that has shown higher standards earlier in the season.
“It was another bad day at the office” stated coach Mark Lamb after the defeat.
“We simply cannot afford to come to teams at the top of the league and make the kinds of errors we made today.
“All credit to Brooklands, they took their chances extremely well and out worked us for most of the match.”
Skipper Richard Kitchen offered some advice to his charges as he reflected: “We need to lift our game on and off the pitch after this result.
“There is a huge amount of things that we need to work on to be at our best. We can get there, but it requires a full squad to be working together to get there.”
This Sunday, Belper travel to face table toppers Sheffield Hallam, 2pm.