Belper Hockey Club 1sts 2
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon as Belper travelled to Warwick to take on league newcomers Khalsa in their latest fixture in the England Hockey National Conference North.
Khalsa had already proved they were not to be taken lightly after drawing with promotion favourites Bowden in recent weeks. The visitors were looking to get back to winning ways after their loss the previous week to Sheffield.
With skipper Hawkes recovering from a hamstring injury sustained in training and Sherratt returning from a long lay-off, coach Duncan Woods once again had a full squad to choose from. The back four was restructured from the previous week with Blackwell moving to right back, Hawkes moving to the middle to partner Mark Lamb and Jake Bullock retaining his place on the left side of defence.
The midfield trio of Batten, Kitchen and Inshaw lined up behind the front three of Walton, Innocent and Cassidy. The game started with the home side being cheered on by a sizeable and vocal home crowd. The intention of both sides was evident in the opening exchanges as each attacked aggressively when in possession of the ball.
The first effort on goal was made by Khalsa as they manufactured a shooting opportunity but the shot flashed wide of the far post. Khalsa had fired a warning shot over the Belper bow and they responded in kind.
After excellent work on the left by Bullock to release Cassidy, the ball found a Khalsa foot in the circle and Belper were awarded the game’s first penalty corner. The routine was slick, allowing Blackwell to pick his spot and drive his flick into the bottom right corner much to the delight of his teammates and small band of supporters, to make it 1-0 to the visitors in the third minute.
This setback did not appear to dampen the home side’s spirits as they continued to play in the same attacking spirit. Scott Cordon was playing a strong role in the middle of the park for the home side and his clever aerial balls were constantly challenging the Nailers’ defence.
With the Khalsa forwards looking to exploit the space behind the Belper back four, the four defenders could not afford a slip-up.
From a Belper attack, the ball was turned over and Khalsa took possession on their own 25-yard line. The ball was moved in typically tricky style evading a number of Belper tackles. A lone high forward made a long wide lead that was tracked by Mark Lamb. Unfortunately for Belper, the final pass took a nick off the defender’s stick and found its way to the Khalsa forward. Utilising the space afforded, striker Idoine was able to carry the ball into the circle and fire a shot past Slane on his near post.
This setback was shortlived as Belper continued to generate chances with Walton and Innocent having chances go narrowly wide. The introduction of Lingeswaren on the right of the midfield was the catalyst for the second Belper goal. His hard work saw the ball reach Morris, whose quick shot was saved by the home ‘keeper. But the ball fell to Sherratt who smashed the rebound into the backboard to give his side the lead in the 26th minute.
The remainder of the half was seen out with little goalmouth action but with a green card for Steve Batten for not retreating the full five yards at a free hit and a yellow for Scot Corden for verbals to the umpire at the break.
Coach Woods emphasised that Belper needed to continue to make the ball do the work and continue to work hard in the front six. With this advice ringing in the ears of the players, the Belper side took to the pitch against the temporary ten men of Khalsa in glorious sunshine.
Straight from the outset, Khalsa set their defence higher up the pitch and Belper struggled to feed their frontline. Khalsa were able to see out their five minute penalty without incident before Corden made his return to the pitch.
Belper were starting to run with the ball a lot more and were getting into one-on-one battles that they had not indulged in during the first half. As a result, the game became a lot more scrappy than the first half where Belper had been more comfortable dictating the pace of the play. Despite this, a number of chances were created with Cassidy and Sherratt forcing the home ‘keeper into a couple of saves.
As Belper pressed forward down the flanks, gaps started to open up that Khalsa tried to exploit and on one occasion won a penalty corner after the ball came became dangerous of what was deemed by the umpire to be a Belper stick. The corner was slipped back to the injector but Blackwell was able to read the move and comfortably cut the pass out.
With the play becoming more and more frantic, it was inevitable that another goal would come. Unfortunately for Belper it came at the wrong end of the pitch. After a period of pressure from Khalsa, Belper were slow in getting organised and did not protect the top of the circle from an attacking free hit.
A Khalsa forward was able to dribble relatively trouble free into the circle and fire a reverse stick shot towards goal. The shot was heading wide of the goal but Anit Chudasama had evaded his marker with a signature lead that allowed him the easiest of finishes from a couple of yards after 59 minutes.
The home side could now see their first league win of the season within their sights and tried to press hard for another goal. The Belper defence stood firm and Slane made a couple of saves but Khalsa did not threaten any further. With Belper making good progress down the flanks thanks to Ebbage and Inshaw, Khalsa were being stretched and made a couple of rash challenges, reducing them to nine men at one stage as Chudasama and Angliss were both yellow carded.
Unfortunately for Belper the nine men of Khalsa were difficult to breakdown and the only reward was a solitary penalty corner. Blackwell’s flick was low and just wide of the left post with the ‘keeper beaten. This was to be the last chance of the game and Belper were left with just a point from a game they felt they should have won.
Sherratt was upbeat on his return to the side after a lengthy lay-off through injury. “It was disappointing not to get the win today, but this was a tricky game and I’m sure Khalsa will take points off other sides here.”
Coach Woods was also upbeat despite the dropped points: “Come the end of the season we may look at this as a point gained rather than two dropped. We didn’t play to our strengths today and need to recognise where we are going wrong when put under pressure by the opposition and we are looking forward to playing Wakefield next week.”
Belper take on Wakefield on Sunday at 2pm at the Meadows.