Belper extend unbeaten run

Belper 1

Olton & West Warwicks 1

Belper Hockey Club Men’s 1sts took on Olton & West Warwicks in their latest England Hockey National Conference North fixture at the Meadows on Sunday.

The weather was in complete contrast to the previous week in Leek with bright, clear sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures. Over the past few seasons, there has rarely been a fixture between the two sides that has not been good for the neutral spectator.

After their previous encounter this season, resulting in a 2 – 1 win for the Nailers, Olton were looking to get a result and put clear distance between themselves and the relegation battle.

Belper were looking to keep their promising run going and capture another three points for their season’s tally. The starting XI contained few changes from the previous week but Belper were able to welcome back James Blackwell to the squad.

Coach Duncan Woods was keen to stress in his pre-match team talk that the aim for the game was to bring elements that had been practiced in training into the game.

Immediately from the start the Olton game plan was evidently aimed to cause issues for the Belper defence by sending their forwards very high and making significant numbers of leads behind the back four. This was causing the Belper side some cause for concern as they tried to move forward themselves and impose themselves on the game.

Olton’s game plan worked for them early on in the game as they opened the scoring in the eighth minute. After Belper were guilty of trying to run the ball out of defence, they turned the ball over in the midfield and were immediately faced with an unexpected counterattack.

As the out of position defence attempted to re-group, a speculative long ball was fired forward just past the outstretched stick of Mark Lamb. Sam Mee was able to touch the ball past Slane in the Belper goal with his first touch.

This setback for Belper resulted in some changes with coach Woods utilising some of the substitutes at his disposal.

James Blackwell was introduced into the back four and the Belper distribution improved. Belper were struggling to retain possession of the ball once it was released forward from the back four.

Despite this, Belper were playing some attractive hockey and were able to force their first penalty corner in the 17th minute. A slick routine worked well allowing Mark Lamb to fire in an accurate strike that beat the ‘keeper but was stopped illegally on the line by the covering defender’s foot.

Umpire Monger immediately awarded the penalty stroke. Blackwell stepped up to calmly send the keeper the wrong way and claim his third goal in four games and draw his side level.

Olton immediately tried to react and managed to claim a penalty corner after the ball hit a defender’s leg after Slane had saved the initial shot from Mallett. The Belper corner defence has been strong recently and this was to prove the same for this afternoon with Mark Lamb making two telling interceptions to prevent Olton stretching their lead.

As the half moved on Belper were unlucky not to take the lead after some excellent work by Inshaw, Ebbage and Sherratt resulted in a scrambled last ditch defence from Olton. Despite the best efforts of the frontline and midfield, Belper were unable to generate any further attempt son goal in the half. They were, however, able to stem the flow of Olton attacks and ensure there were no more goals in the first half.

The half-time team talk from coach Woods focused on Belper not falling into the trap of allowing Olton to dictate the play and to play their own game. This talk did the trick as Belper were much stronger in the second half apart from a 5 minute spell where Olton consistently pressurised the defence.

There was no further score in the match as both teams’ defences took the plaudits in what was a disjointed half of hockey. Both sides generated chances but were unable to take them as the game wore on. Belper’s Rich Cassidy had the best chances to make a breakthrough but was thwarted by two excellent saves from Olton ‘keeper Gooderham.

With both sides frustrated not have taken a win from the fixture, both sets of players were left looking back on the game as a case of what might have been.

Belper skipper Sam Hawkes was keen to take the positives from the game: “There are no easy games in this league and we always knew that Olton would come here and try to play good hockey. They were able to cause us some issues around the back but I thought we dealt with those quite well after the first ten minutes of the game.

“We need to ensure we keep possession of the ball more confidently and consistently in the remainder of the season if we want to move higher up the table,” he added.

Coach Duncan Woods was cautious in his appraisal of the game: “It was a decent performance from the lads who did very well to minimise the number of chances Olton created despite the amount of possession they enjoyed. If we can combine all the elements of our game, then we are a very good side and can challenge in this league.”

Belper take on Warwickshire side Khalsa on Sunday at 2pm at the Meadows. All support is welcome.