Belper making good progress

Bowden 1

Belper Hockey Club Men’s 1sts 0

Belper and Bowden met for the first time this season on Saturday in an enticing clash of two sides whose recent history has mirrored that of each other since their respective promotions to the National League.

Bowden have, however, enjoyed longer spell in the top flight of English hockey than Belper managed, having only dropped into the National Conference North this season. The last time these two teams met, in the EH Cup last season, Bowden ran out convincing winners in a 10-0 rout. The Nailers’ side was keen to ensure there would be no repeat of this scoreline on this occasion.

The weather in Manchester was unseasonably pleasant as the two sides lined up for the fixture with Belper able to field a full 16 for the first time this season.

The back four remained the same from the previous week’s match against Durham with Hawkes, Lamb, Blackwell and Inshaw lining up behind the regular midfield of Ebbage, Kitchen and Batten. The front three also remained constant with Walton partnered by Cassidy and Morris.

Bowden signalled their intentions straight from the pushback with a quick attack into the Belper circle but Hawkes was alert to the danger and was able to clear. Bowden were flexing their muscles and trying to put their defeat to Sheffield the previous week behind them as they moved the ball with pace and intent across the pitch and down the flanks.

It took Belper a short period of time to find their feet on the unfamiliar turf and adjust to the pace of the game but when they did they were able to cause a few problems of their own.

Inshaw at right back was instrumental in feeding Batten and Morris on the right flank and these balls were often switched across the pitch. Soon, Belper generated their first opportunity as Cassidy was able to feed Walton but his shot flashed wide of the far post.

The game was heating up and Bowden were able to claim the first penalty corner of the game after finding the foot of Inshaw inside the defensive circle. Slane in the Belper goal parried the initial flick and a combination of Lamb and Blackwell were able to tidy up any lingering danger with a smart tackle and release.

With the Belper defence again showing their resilience in the face of a pacey and skilled opposition frontline, the Belper side grew in confidence and continually looked to prise open the Bowden defence. However, too often the ball was turned over in the middle of the park and an out of position Belper side struggled to regain their shape and structure.

It was an occasion like this that led to the game’s only goal. After a period of deep defence by Belper after the initial turnover, the Bowden side made progress around the top of the Belper circle in much the same way as a rugby side would make territory.

After a couple of defended free hits to Bowden, a simple pass unlocked the Belper defence and allowed the onrushing Ian Hardingham time and space to control and fire the ball high into the roof of the net past Slane in the 21st minute.

Belper took this scoreline into the break and were encouraged to go forward for the remainder of the game and push the Bowden side into making mistakes.

The changing of the midfield and frontline allowed coach Woods to introduce Bullock and Lingeswaren to the fray in midfield to give Ebbage and Batten a rest and also to introduce Sherratt and Debutant Adrian Palmer to the frontline. These changes almost paid instant dividends as Palmer came close to beating the Bowden keeper with a flicked shot but saw his effort tipped away by Turner.

Belper started to play the better hockey, putting together some nice moves that gave the frontline the freedom to move around behind the Bowden back four and stretch them. Two magnificent chances fell to Ben Walton during this period and the prolific striker was unlucky with one attempt and even unluckier with another as Turner again made an excellent stop to keep his side in the lead.

As the game wore on and Belper searched for the elusive equaliser, Bowden threatened Belper through counter attacks. From these attacks, they managed to create a number of penalty corners but Slane was equal to anything they threw at him.

Belper thought they had the equaliser after a crash ball from Hawkes was tipped home by Batten, only for the umpires to order a re-take of the free hit after many protestations from Bowden and a chat.

The Belper side were understandably frustrated with the outcome. Putting this behind them, Belper continued to press hard and generated another couple of chances with Cassidy going close and Blackwell having a penalty corner saved.

Belper fought to the end and won a penalty corner at the death but Palmer was unlucky not to snatch his new side a point and saw his effort sail over the crossbar, much to the relief and celebrations of the home side.

It was a heartening performance that had built on the previous week’s efforts against Durham and Belper surely deserved a point from the game.

Despite the lack of points, coach Duncan Woods was very positive: “It’s great to see us building as a side week on week now. Some of our play today was excellent and all we need now is to put away our chances.”

Man of the Match David Ebbage was full of praise for his teammates. “This is a difficult place to come and we more than matched them today. We can take a lot of pride from how we played today and now look forward to our next couple of matches.”

Belper face Preston in the first return fixture of the season in the final game before the Christmas break next week.