EHL Conference North
BELPER Men’s Hockey Club first XI ended the 2011/12 National Conference North season by sharing six goals against a Doncaster side who had beaten them 7-1 in the opening game of the campaign.
With league survival already guaranteed from the previous week’s efforts, it was a refreshing feeling for the Belper players to be facing the prospect of a match with no pressure to provide a result.
It was a feeling Coach Mark lamb was keen to dispel. He wanted the Nailers to continue the great form they have been showing at home in the second half of the season to gather more points and pull away from the drop zone.
With another full squad to pick from, coach Lamb was able to select a fully fit side.
The midfield quartet of Ebbage, Sharpe, Kitchen and Inshaw were keen to defend the middle of the pitch and prevent Doncaster from playing their free flowing game that had proved so devastating in their previous encounter.
The forwards were picked on form and provided Rich Cassidy and Luke Davies with the opportunity to increase their tallies’ for the season. A strong bench of Innocent, Walton, Mason, Den Ouden and Sherratt completed the squad.
To say the opening exchanges were a little one-sided would be an understatement as Doncaster attacked from the off taking advantage of some lacklustre defending to create a couple of chances.
Slane had to be alert in the opening minute to prevent a quickly taken shot from being the game’s opening score.
Unfortunately, this wake-up call went unanswered when from a side-line ball, Doncaster were able to fire a quick pass across the circle to Marcus Hooper, who had managed to elude his marker, and deflect the ball convincingly past Slane to open the scoring in the third minute.
As Belper tried to come to terms with this goal mentally, Doncaster turned the screw by creating a number of opportunities in open play and from set pieces.
When a well worked Doncaster move saw the ball moved into the Belper circle, a couple of chances to clear the danger were missed and Belper were once again second to the loose ball. On this occasion Owen Leask swept home a rebound on the reverse to increase his side’s lead to 2-0 on 14 minutes.
This later wake-up call had the desired effect and sparked the Belper side into action.
The introduction of Sherratt had an immediate impact as he was frequently diving to collect balls on the opposition baseline. Belper forced a couple of penalty corners and Sam Hawkes’ fierce shot was well saved by the Doncaster ‘keeper and the rebound fell unkindly for Joe Sharpe.
The next penalty corner was won and the debate centred around whether it should have been a penalty stroke but the umpire held the decision that a corner was punishment enough for the infringement.
A well-worked move saw Blackwell pull his shot across to Sherrat who was able to fire the ball goalwards. On this occasion there could be no debate as the shot hammered off the defenders foot on the goal line. Luke Davies was on the pitch on this occasion (having been off the pitch for the last two strokes Belper have been awarded) and moved confidently to take the stroke. Keeping his cool and good form continuing, Luke calmly and skilfully placed his shot into the bottom right of the goal to reduce the deficit to a single goal. 1- 2 in the twenty seventh minute.
The remainder of the half saw Belper continue this form with another penalty corner just missing the target. At half time as t pit was being watered, coach lamb was eager to point out that the game was there for the taking and that the Belper side had recovered much worse positions than this in the season to get points.
Belper knew they needed to push the Doncaster side further up the pitch but to also be aware of their ability to release through the use of aerial balls.
From the outset of the second half the play was being dictated by the home side.
With the Doncaster players not able to get the ball to their high forwards thanks to the excellent running and battling skills of the Belper midfield, their defence resorted to long aerial passes to relieve the pressure. Dave Ebbage found himself in command of the left hand channel and was able to drive forward and release the forwards or cut inside and find Sharpe who was also wreaking havoc.
From one such movement a strong run by Ebbage was enough to evade and defat two defenders before enticing the ‘keeper a yard off his post. This was enough to provide a great pass to the waiting Adam Innocent who had timed his run to perfection and dived to tip the ball home. Adam and his team mate’s celebrations showed just what the goal meant to Adam and what he meant to the team. 2 – 2 after fifty two minutes.
The Belper team strove forward looking to take the lead and created a number of chances with Sharpe only being denied by a smart save after a thunderous strike from the edge of the circle. A couple of penalty corner chances were created but were not taken.
Completely against the run of play, a rushed clearance from a Doncaster defender reached their Striker on the Belper 25. His marker was caught just off line allowing the striker the ability to turn and run at the Belper goal. Lachlan Brownhalls’ cool chipped finish again provided his team with the lead in the match much to the annoyance of the Belper side and home fans and it was 2-3 after 63 minutes.
In previous seasons Belper may have surrendered there and then but this squad is nothing if not combative and persistent. Within a minute Belper had created another melee in the Doncaster circle allowing Inshaw the opportunity to fire the ball across goal when it broke to him.
Off this pass Rich Cassidy dived in to deflect the ball into the net to pull the Nailers level again. Once again the Nailer’s celebrations were much more jubilant than those of the opposition and it was 3-3 after 64 minutes.
As the game ended it was the home side that was looking for the winner and a draw was the final result. As the sun lowered in the sky, the curtain fell on what has been a bit of an up and down season for the Nailers with some truly remarkable performances and hockey played out at home and away.
Coach Lamb was in reflective mood after the game; “I was disappointed with how we started but after the first twenty minutes we dominated the game”. “If we can put a performance in for 70 minutes we would be a phenomenal team. But given the season we have had, I am delighted that we are still in this league next year. I couldn’t have asked for more from the players over the course of the season and my thanks go to them for their hard work and efforts since July last year” he added.
Captain Richard Kitchen had the last word saying: “It’s been a privilege to lead these guys this season, they have never let me down or given me less than I have asked for at any stage. I have been immensely proud to have been their captain this season”.