Belper men snatch a draw from the jaws of victory

Men’s Conference North

Olton & West Warwicks 3

Belper 3

BELPER coach Mark Lamb criticised his side for a lack of discipline after they had let slip a three-goal lead.

He said: “I’m bitterly disappointed in the result. To surrender that lead in the manner we did was simply unacceptable.”

He added; “It is understandable that people get frustrated when things do not go their way, but we have to conduct ourselves on the pitch in a better manner and not allow the frustration to stop us playing hockey.”

Skipper Richard Kitchen was equally unhappy “At the start of the day, I would have been happy with a point. But this is two points dropped rather than a point gained. Our discipline has to improve, on that front we have no defence.”

In their third EHL Conference North league fixture of the season, Belper went to Olton and West Warwicks on a baking hot day.

The Belper line up saw a few changes with Adam Bull returning to left back in place of the unavailable Chris Hall.

Nick Morris was also unavailable giving Ben Walton another opportunity in the starting line up. Rich Cassidy came into the squad following his seven-goal haul for the seconds the previous week.

Belper took a short while to get used to the ‘sticky’ Olton pitch but were soon more than comfortable with it.

Olton were clearly looking to press the Belper back four by splitting them on any occasion the ball was transferred around the back and twice goalkeeper Slane had to make early saves.

Belper steadied and began to make inroads into the Olton half of the pitch. On one occasion a long ball from Blackwell picked out an unmarked Tom Sherratt 15 metres inside the Olton half. Tom easily controlled the ball and drove into the circle. While going around the Olton ‘keeper he was fouled and the umpire following in Tom’s wake awarded a penalty stroke much to Belper’s delight.

With usual penalty stroke taker Luke Davies off the pitch, James Blackwell took on the responsibility from the spot and made no mistake to put Belper 1-0 up on 15 minutes.

Belper doubled their advantage on 18 minutes when Dave Ebbage fired a great cross into the circle where Sharratt and substitute Rich Cassidy had made strong leads. The ball was aimed at the near post and Cassidy managed to evade his marker and apply the deftest of finishes to the cross to place it under Gooderham. It was a fantastic finish and showed just what Belper were capable of when they moved the ball with pace and purpose.

The Olton heads visibly dropped but Belper were briefly reduced to ten men after James Blackwell was green carded for taking what he thought was his free hit.

A harsh punishment that appeared to be more aimed at appeasing the appeals from Olton players than keeping order on the pitch. Belper weathered the storm with some great covering play from Adam Bull and Jake Bullock.

As Belper got more into the game they made further inroads into the Olton half and were able to force a penalty corner after excellent work from Walton saw the ball trapped under the goalkeeper’s pads. The corner routine was not as slick as it could have been with the initial shot charged down and deflected to Tom Sherratt on the bye line who managed to squeeze a pass through a crowd of Olton players to skipper Richard Kitchen at the back post to tap into an open net for 3-0 on 29 minutes.

The remainder of the half was played out without any further incident.

At the start of the second half, Olton started strongly. Initially Belper were able to soak up everything that was thrown at them but slowly, the hosts were able to penetrate further into the Belper defences.

On one occasion a late, but in no way malicious, tackle by Adam Bull was penalised by a green card and the accompanying two minute suspension.

The pressure told and Olton were awarded a penalty corner. The initial flick was saved by Slane but the ball rebounded high and another was awarded. At the second attempt Tom Pickersgill made no mistake, firing the ball into the bottom right corner of the goal past the outstretched foot of Slane to reduce the deficit to 3-1 on 50 minutes.

This should have been a wake-up call for Belper. Unfortunately in attempting to play better the Belper players held onto the ball for longer than they needed to and were often being tackled when a simple pass would have been the best option.

Increasingly, the tackles that were being made on the Belper players as they tried to emerge with the ball got more cynical.

Unfortunately neither umpire picked up on this. On one occasion when Olton advanced down their left flank Sherratt mistimed a tackle and was yellow carded.

Only a few moments later James Blackwell was also dismissed for five minutes on a yellow card after another mistimed tackle. Belper were incredibly frustrated having been the victim of worse tackles that went unpunished only minutes before.

Frustrations boiled over and Belper lost focus, allowing Jack Mallett an easy goal on 54 minutes for 3-2.

Belper’s backs were against the wall and they struggled to get out of their own half.

The downward spiral continued and with tempers running high Belper were unable to retain possession and turned the ball over going out from the back and Olton were presented with another opportunity.

Sam Hawkes dived into the tackle just outside the circle and had the ball lifted into him. Apparently unsighted, the umpire could not see the incident but consulted with his colleague and awarded the penalty corner. Once again Olton’s routine worked and Pickersgill fired low past Slane to level the scores in the 68th minute, 3 – 3.

The remainder of the game petered out with neither side happy with a point.

Belper’s next match is against League newcomers Preston who have impressed with their positive start to life in the National League. The match is on Saturday, October 8 at the Meadows, 1.30 pm start.