Morris off the mark as Belper earn a draw

Belper Hockey Club Men’s 1sts 1

University of Durham 1

Belper got their stuttering England Hockey National Conference North back on track with a draw in their last home game of 2012.

The recent battles between these two sides have been close and have seen a large number of goals. However, the home side have never managed to edge out their northern rivals for a win.

Following the two-week break since the last league game, Belper have been able to work on their game and have a much-needed rest. Coach Duncan Woods had a fully fit and available squad to choose from as he looked to get his side back to winning ways.

It was with a competitive spirit that the Belper side took to the pitch in glorious sunshine. The side that lined up sported a number of changes with the backline reshuffled. Inshaw retained his spot at right back but with Blackwell moved to centre back to partner Mark Lamb at sweeper.

Sam Hawkes took the last defensive position on the left of the back four. Richard Kitchen returned to the side after his enforced absence against Doncaster in the centre of midfield, flanked by David Ebbage and Steve Batten on the left and right respectively.

The front line consisted of Rich Cassidy, Ben Walton and Nick Morris with Innocent, Sherratt, Lingeswaren and Bullock on the bench and available to coach Woods.

The game started after somewhat truncated warm up, due in part to the late arrival of a couple of squad members as a result of a traffic accident on the A52. The initial pace of the game was fierce with Durham taking the first push back and playing an aerial straight into the corner. From this play, Durham tried to press the Belper defence but were unable to take advantage as Blackwell was able to counter with his own effective aerial ball.

From this point on, Belper pushed the pace of the game and took the game to their opponents. Belper utilised the principles they have been practicing in training to play some slick hockey that Durham struggled to compete with.

The midfield trio were the stars in this period of play with David Ebbage and Steve Batten pulling the strings and creating flowing moves down the flanks. These moves were finding the forward line’s frequent leads and causing the Durham defence issues.

The first chance fell to Ben Walton after excellent interplay between Ebbage and Cassidy saw the ball worked to the left side of the circle but Walton saw his powerful shot saved by the onrushing ‘keeper.

The opening goal came just after some excellent interchange play between Inshaw and Batten won a free hit just inside the attacking 25-yard line.

From this dead ball, Mark Lamb was able to take a self-pass and move the ball without any pressure before delivering the ball into Durham circle. Nick Morris timed his run from the right perfectly to meet the ball and firmly deflect it past a flat-footed Durham defence to give his side a deserved lead. This was Morris’s first goal of the season and ample reward for his fine performances thus far this season.

Only a few minutes later, the ‘keeper was again forced into action to save from Cassidy as Belper played their best hockey of the season to date. Chances came and passed for the home side but Durham grew in stature as they played themselves into the game and started to push forward themselves.

The introduction of Sherratt and Innocent allowed the Nailers to keep the intensity of their frontline workrate high. However, the possession and chances were not translated into goals due to a sturdier Durham defensive unit.

Durham created a couple of chances in the half and made a breakthrough with the game’s first penalty corner. After a turnover higher up the pitch, the Durham forwards were able to manufacture the penalty corner after a quick counter-attack. Durham are well known for their slick corner routines and this season proved to be no different. Matthew Murphy was able to fire a strong flick into the bottom left corner to draw his side level after 29 minutes.

The remainder of the half passed with Durham creating another chance but the danger was averted and the sides went in level at the break.

Coach Woods was keen to stress to his side that they needed to return to the principles and techniques that had seen them dominate the first 20 minutes of the match.

The second half started with Belper looking to reassert themselves on the game but found the going difficult. Indeed the second half proved to be a reverse of the first with Durham growing in confidence and enjoying more of the possession.

The back four were under much more pressure as Durham looked to move the ball down their left flank and through the middle. Fortunately, the back four were resolute in their defending with Blackwell generating a number of counter attacks after thwarting the pacy Durham forwards. When the Durham strikers did get an effort on target, they found Slane difficult to beat.

With the defenders taking the plaudits as the game wore on, Belper started to come back into the game and Rich Cassidy managed to pick the pocket of a Durham defender in the circle but was unfortunate to skew his shot just wide. Further chances came but the home side lacked the final touch in the circle.

Belper’s final chance came from a penalty corner with two minutes left on the clock. Blackwell saw his flick saved and the ‘keeper did enough to see the rebound clear the players looking for a rebound. As the game finished, both sides seemed disappointed with a point from the game.

Coach Duncan Woods was in languid mood after the game: “I’m pleased with how we approached the game today and how we dominated the opening exchanges. If we can build on that I’m sure that we will build on our points tally.”

Goalscorer Nick Morris was pleased with the goal. “It’s great to get on the scoresheet at last after a few games without one. I’m disappointed we didn’t sneak all three points considering the chances we generated in the first half, but it sets us up nicely for our two games next week.”

Belper take on Bowden in the league in Manchester on Saturday and then travel to London to take on Premier League side Hampstead and Westminster in the England Hockey Cup.