EHL Conference North
Leek 3, Belper 0
BELPER finished their final game of 2011 on a disappointing note.
It was a first return fixture of the season and on the back of a poor run of form, it was a game that the Nailers needed to get something from.
Having beaten Leek earlier in the season at the Meadows, a competitive encounter was guaranteed.
With a full squad at his disposal, coach Mark Lamb was able to name a relatively unchanged starting 11 from the previous week.
Only a couple of positional changes occurred with Jake Bullock moving to the middle of defence with Luke Davies moving into the right back role allowing Ben Inshaw a more attacking role at right midfield and Richard Kitchen the holding midfield position.
The side was keen to get some points as Leek has proved a barren ground for more than a couple of seasons for Belper.
With the desire to get more points on the board before the midseason break, the Belper side started at a much faster and purposeful pace than Leek.
As such, Belper took the game to the home side who were very much on the back foot.
Early opportunities were presented to Innocent and Sherratt but they found Mark Brazier in the Leek goal in solid form.
As Leek weathered the Belper attack they conceded a number of penalty corners. The Nailer’s routines were not as slick as they could have been with Brazier able to save easily and one switched move being passed harmlessly over the backline.
Leek did generate a couple of chances of their own. On one occasion Ben White forced a decent save from Slane off a reverse stick shot.
The rebound travelled a considerable distance and generated a counter attack that resulted in a great long pass from Sherratt to Innocent who was unlucky to see his shot cleared by a covering defender.
As with previous weeks, the Belper side started to lose confidence and frustration crept into the game.
This was not helped by a clumsy and late Leek tackle that took the legs from under James Blackwell. Quite how such a tackle was deemed not to be dangerous or a foul by the umpire was quite a mystery to all involved.
Having enjoyed the majority of possession and chances to this point, it was disappointing for Belper to concede first.
A commitment forward had left the back line over exposed and slightly out of position.
When The Leek side won a free hit just outside the circle, the Belper side were slow to react to the calls and mark players in the circle tightly.
A neat pass found Paul Nickson unmarked on the penalty spot. His initial effort was saved by Slane but he picked up the rebound and rounded Slane before slotting home to give his side the lead. 1- 0 to Leek in the 22nd minute.
As Belper continued to push forward and turn the screw, Leek were forced to rely on aerial balls to clear their lines. With the Belper defenders stepping higher up the pitch these proved difficult to deal with at times. From one such ball Chris Hall took the ball cleanly but the umpire adjudged the take to have been above shoulder height.
He was rewarded with a five-minute yellow card from the umpire. A harsh punishment when a green would have sufficed. Far more serious offences had already gone unpunished.
With Belper down to ten men they could have been forgiven for shutting up shop and seeing the half out. Leek were ready for half time and were playing a half court press. Belper naively tried to play the ball through the compacted Leek midfield and turned the ball over.
With the Belper side strung out the length of the pitch and a man down, it was impossible to recover their position. This presented Leek with an easy 3 on 1. Ben White applied the finishing touch to give his side their second goal against the run of play. 2- 0 in the 32nd minute.
The half time team talk was to a side that was experiencing a sense of de ja vu. With just 35 minutes until the mid-season break, they knew what was expected of them.
The second half continued in much the same vein as the first. Belper enjoyed much of the possession but were unable to take advantage of this with chances being generated but not taken.
Mark Brazier in the home goal was again in fine form but he was helped by some poor Belper finishing.
Too often the final pass was cut out or went astray inside the circle. Despite this some chances were created but the tight Leek defence showed that they are more than capable of defending solidly and concentrating for a prolonged period of time.
The longer this stage of eth game progressed, the more exposed the Belper side looked as the Leek forwards were still full of running and took advantage on a number of counter attacks.
These only resulted in three penalty corners that Slane saved as well as an excellent covering tackle from the indefatigable Richard Kitchen.
The nearest Belper came was a half chance through Nick Morris at the near post and a penalty corner drag flick from Luke Davies that brought a flying save from Brazier. The chances started to dry up as Belper started dribbling the ball between the two 25’s instead of passing.
The Leek side were more than happy to allow Belper to play this way as their hard working backs were winning almost every contest the Belper players engaged in.
Dan Mason was introduced for his debut in the back four to release James Blackwell further forward.
However, with only seconds left on the clock and with players committed forward a turnover saw the ball presented to the Leek frontline who advanced on the Belper circle and provided James Gough with the opportunity to further extend his side’s lead.
This he did by firing the ball low past Slane into the bottom corner. 3- 0 in the 70th minute.
Coach Mark Lamb was reflective after the game “That was a tough game and one that we were ready for.”
He added “Although we didn’t get on the scoreboard today we dictated much of the play and need to rectify the reasons we are not scoring.”