EHL Men’s Conference North
Barford Tigers 1
BELPER gained three precious points after edging a nervy home game against Birmingham-based rivals Barford.
The task was no easy one against a visiting skide which contains some of the most skilful players in the league.
Previous meetings between the sides have provided some exciting hockey and great goals.
Coach Mark Lamb had the luxury of having a full squad to select from for the first time in several weeks.
The match started with some areas of the pitch still dry after the watering but it didn’t impact on play.
The match started at a ferocious pace with the visiting side looking to take the game to the home side from the outset. The speed of transfer in the opening minutes was incredibly high with both sides keen to move the ball, and opposition, as they probed for a breakthrough.
As in previous weeks, Belper made much of the early running and Blackwell was prominent, directing the play.
The breakthrough came very early for the Nailers. Barford were awarded a free hit in the middle of the pitch and tried to take it quickly.
Blackwell was instantly alive to the opportunity and showed excellent awareness and athleticism to quickly close down the taker and steal possession. With the Barford team slow to react to the turnover, Blackwell was able to feed an unmarked Sherratt who advanced unopposed towards the Barford circle.
Good running from Luke Davies allowed him to joining Sherratt in the opposition circle and create a two-on-one against the Barford ‘keeper. Sherratt drew the keeper before calmly sliding the ball square to the waiting Davies who had the time to stop and slap the ball into the Barford net for 1-0 on four minutes.
It was just reward for Davies who deserved the goal after several impressive performances in the front line.
Unhappy with the umpires for allowing the goal, Barford were keen to voice their displeasure resulting in a stoppage of time and a yellow card for Jagandip Rai.
Unfortunately, this set the tone for much of the remainder of the game with ill-discipline overshadowing some good hockey and fantastic stick skills.
Despite the instant numerical advantage, Belper really struggled against ten-man Barford from this point as the Birmingham side made the running.
Harjinder Sandhu was instrumental in working the Barford frontline and causing the Belper back six some difficulty in tracking the players and runs.
Fortunately for Belper, the defence withstood everything that was thrown at them and restricted Barford to three penalty corners in the first half.
The half was not dominated by either side but Belper did create the lion’s share of the chances with the Barford ‘keeper called into action on more than one occasion.
Despite this, Belper could not extend their lead and half time arrived with no further additions to the score line.
Barford came out all guns blazing for the second half. They pushed the ball around with pace and made a couple if incisive penetrating movements that the Belper side simply did not pick up.
Barford won a penalty corner very quickly after the restart when the Tigers showed some of their legendary stick skills.
After winning a corner, Shujah Ur Rehman used the opportunity to get a flick on goal. Slane should have saved the effort but it sneaked underneath him for 1-1 on 36 minutes, much to the delight of the visitors.
Belper made a concerted effort to get back into the game with a number of moves being pieced together.
However, the Tigers had the momentum and played some enticing hockey.
When the Belper side managed to get past the Barford press, the frontline often found themselves in acres of space. This was encouraging as first Davies and then Innocent combined for the later to lift the ball over the Barford ‘keeper towards the goal. Unfortunately the ball also drifted wide of the far post.
Belper’s patience and hard work paid dividends in the 58th minute when they won a penalty corner after good work by Sam Hawkes and Ben Inshaw on the right flank.
On this occasion the routine worked well with Sherratt pulling the ball out to Jake Bullock who stopped the ball for Sam Hawkes to strike. Sam got his powerful shot off on goal only for a Barford defender to deflect it high into the net over the stranded ‘keeper.
The team and home supporters were overjoyed at the goal and even Sam allowed himself a small celebration as it put his side 2-1 up on 58 minutes.
Barford pushed hard to find the equaliser but found the Belper defence holding their ground.
Belper had a chance to make it 3- 1 but a glorious move came to nothing as David Ebbage lost his footing while in the process of shooting only to see his first time shot sail high over the crossbar.
This move showed exactly how potent the Nailers can be when they move the ball quickly and attack at pace.
As the match petered out it was the home side that completed their third successive home victory in the league.
Coach Mark Lamb commented after the game; “That was not a particular pretty game of hockey, but we worked hard and scraped through in the end. It’s a sign of how far the squad has come in a few months – this was a game we would have lost last season.”
Goal hero for the second successive home game Sam Hawkes was also pleased with the result “ We spent some time this week working on penalty corners and it was great to get the goal from one”.
Skipper Richard Kitchen was keen to point out; “It was a difficult game and we will need to be on better form for the remaining games in the run up to Christmas if we want to cement our place just behind the chasing pack.”
Belper take on Bowden in the latest round of the England Hockey Cup this Sunday (Oct 30) in Manchester.