EHL Conference North
AFTER an extended winter break, thanks in part to the recent cold weather, Belper restarted the North Conference campaign by recording their first away win of the season.
Keen followers will know that the encounter between these two sides earlier in the season produced a superb match that saw the Nailers edge a seven-goal thriller with a last minute winner from Sam Hawkes.
On this occasion Belper were hoping for all three points but in a more comfortable manner and in the end, this was a reasonably easy victory to seal a league double over the Lancashire club.
The team that lined up to face Preston had a couple of enforced changes due to player absences for a number of reasons.
With Defenders Jake Bullock and Dan Mason unavailable, Sam Hawkes was moved in the middle of the back four to partner Richard Kitchen and Chris Hall while Luke Davies returned to the right back position. This allowed Belper to start the game with their strongest possible midfield with Joe Sharpe, Ben Inshaw, James Blackwell and David Ebbage lining up across the park. Sherratt and Den Ouden completed the line up.
The pitch at Preston was very quick and slippy and both sides had some issues with the slippy nature of the surface. When Belper could get the ball out from the back, they found Sherratt and Den Ouden in great form with their runs into space being rewarded with plenty of passes from the back four and midfield.
As has been a feature this season, Belper soon found themselves a goal down after a period of pressure from Preston.
Although the Nailers had initially weathered the advances of the Preston forwards, a sloppy turnover from the resultant free hit saw a clumsy challenge on the Preston striker as they advanced into the Belper circle.
Although the Preston players appealed for a stroke, the umpire awarded the penalty corner. Preston made no mistake from their first corner with Adam Wilson firing home low past Slane for 1-0 on eight minutes.
Belper rallied and were rewarded with a couple of penalty corner opportunities generated by Den Ouden who terrorised the Preston defence.
From one effort the ball broke to Sam Hawkes after a scrambled defence and his reverse stick shot brought a good save from the Preston ‘keeper.
Belper continued to press and Sherratt created a marvellous opportunity when he collected the ball inside the attacking ’25 and advanced into eth Preston circle. He rounded the keeper using excellent skill only for the slippy surface to strike again with Tom losing his footing.
This stung the home attack back into action and the attacked down their left flank drawing a number of Belper players who were unable to make a telling tackle as Andy Robinson moved across the circle and lined up a reverse stick shot. This flew into the net to double the lead on 24 minutes.
It is fair to say that at this stage the Belper side did not their heads drop as they battled to get back into the game. That opportunity was not long in coming as Ben Walton, on for Sherratt, beat a defender and bore down on the circle. He was unceremoniously upended outside the circle but umpire Harrison deemed the foul intentional and worthy of a penalty corner.
From their third effort Belper made no mistake as Kitchen touched home Blackwell’s drag flick to reduce the deficit to 2-1 on 28 minutes.
Coach Lamb’s half time team talk spurred Belper side to take the game to Preston.
The self belief was evident as right from the outset both sides looked to score.
Belper rotated their forwards and moved Kitchen into midfield – allowing Blackwell a free roaming role around the back four.
Unfortunately for Belper Inshaw was sin binned for an innocuous foul that saw the Nailers reduced to ten men for five minutes.
During this spell, Preston looked to press home their numerical advantage. The plaudits for surviving this period must go to Davies, Hall and Hawkes who were simply superb in repelling wave after wave of Preston attacks.
Once restored to full strength Belper took the game to Preston. Substitute Richard Cassidy was on hand to take advantage of some superb link play on the left flank between Den Ouden and Ebbage to slot home past the home keeper and it was 2-2 on 45 minutes and game on.
The Preston heads visibly dropped and Belper pressed on. A number of opportunities were generated by the hard-working forwards and Den Ouden was unlucky not to open his Belper account when his effort was cleared illegally off the line. The umpire awarded a stroke but later changed his mind after Den Ouden was treated for an injury caused by the illegal clearance.
The winner for Belper came from a penalty corner in the 62nd minute. After good link play from Morris and Inshaw a penalty corner was awarded.
The initial effort was blocked but Sam Hawkes was on hand to drive the ball home on the rebound on 62 minutes after which Belper saw out the remaining time with ease.