EHL Conference North
Barford Tigers 2
BELPER travelled to Birmingham to face bottom-of-the-table Barford Tigers and slipped to a frustrating 2-1 defeat.
Barford sat bottom of the table without a win all season and only two points to their name.
Belper have been in good form since the mid-season break and were looking to add to their points tally.
The Nailers had a full squad available due to the return of Tom Sherratt from injury and James Blackwell declaring himself fit after recovering from a knock against Durham.
Sam Hawkes had also recovered from a mid-week virus to face the Birmingham side.
Belper have not enjoyed a good run of results on the road to Barford in the last few seasons with just one win from three trips.
Everyone in the Belper side knew this game would be tough but they also knew that the points on offer could be vital come the end of the season. Coach Lamb warned his troops in the pre-match team talk not to underestimate the opposition and be aware of their tricky skills.
The initial exchanges were of two sides looking to make a quick impact and perhaps forcing the play more than they should.
Belper were put under pressure from the start by a Barford side looking to press when possible. On one occasion Slane had to be on his toes to deny Barford the opening goal when Blackwell was tackled inside the circle.
From this moment on Belper were the better side in the contest with the front line creating space and chances in a manner that had the Barford defence struggling to keep up.
The best initial chance fell to Ben Walton who had come on for Den Ouden. Good work down the left channel by Ebbage and Morris had seen the Barford defence bypassed completely and Walton was only denied by a smart save from the home ‘keeper.
In the remainder of the half Belper continued to press and were rewarded with a penalty corner and another goalscoring chance.
Sam Hawkes shot at the corner was turned around the post for a long corner by the covering defender and Rich Cassidy saw his close range effort sail harmlessly over the crossbar when it seemed easier to score.
The match was a good contest between the two sides but the Belper legs were starting to tire and some decision making was not at the standard it was in previous weeks.
Coach Lamb was keen to highlight the number of turnovers the team was making in his half time team talk. But he also urged the team to take more care with possession when in the opposition half and to try and make the ball do the work.
Belper took this advice on board and started the second half well with some lovely passing movements taking numerous Barford players out of the game.
Ben Inshaw was quick to take a free hit and charged into the opposition circle. The Barford defenders had not retreated the required five-meters and the umpire awarded a penalty corner.
James Blackwell stepped up and fired home high to the ‘keeper’s left to give the visitor’s a 1-0 lead on 41 minutes.
This only served to encourage Barford. As they came at the Belper team the game turned into something more akin to tennis than top level hockey as each team continually turned the ball over.
Belper withstood some scares to keep their lead and generated another chance that went a begging after the umpire played a very weak advantage after Nick Morris had appeared to have done enough to earn a penalty corner.
A few minutes later and Barford were level. After a period of pressure the Barford side created some pressure around the edge of the circle.
Slane stepped over a ball that the Belper players were convinced hadn’t been touched in the circle and the umpire awarded a goal after a longer than usual whistle blast and a strange mixture of hand signals.
The Belper players appealed but the umpire refused to consult with his colleague and it was 1-1 after 59 minutes.
From this point Belper tried to push forward and retake the lead. This caused the back four to defend well but try and force the ball forward through players rather than around them and this lead to Barford creating an overload after Belper had committed forward.
Slane was faced with a two-on-one in the 61st minute and Martin Marquardt gave the home side the lead from close range.
Belper tried desperately to get back into the game but were constantly frustrated through cheap turnovers gifting possession to the opposition. A few chances were created with Morris and Ebbage seeing efforts go just wide or over.
The last chance fell during a penalty corner but Blackwell’s effort was swept off the goal line by a defender.
The Barford celebrations at the final whistle showed just what the win meant for them in their bid to stay in the league. Coach Mark Lamb was disappointed after the game “Obviously to have lost the game from a winning position is not good. But we had the opportunities to kill the game off in the first and second half but failed to take them.”
Goalscorer James Blackwell was also downbeat after the gam. He said: “It was disappointing to lose but our game was not at the races today. We turned the ball over far too much at key times and we need to improve on this aspect of our game as we go into the next few weeks.”
Belper take on league leaders Brooklands MU at the Meadows this Sunday (March 4) at 2pm.