EHL Conference North
Sheffield Hallam 7
BELPER fell to a third straight heavy defeat as league leaders Sheffield Hallam continued their prolific goalscoring feats.
With Belper and Sheffield both being involved in the playoffs in 2007, both sides have seen a change in fortunes over the past three seasons.
Having worked hard during the week to try and fix the issues experienced in the previous two weeks at Bowden and Brooklands, it was an optimistic Belper side that arrived with a new game plan and structure aimed at cutting out the self-inflicted mistakes.
The side also welcomed back Joe Sharpe to the starting line-up, a fantastic bonus considering the serious injury Joe suffered in the Summer while representing the England youth team.
Sheffield started the game at a high pace and made much of the early running but found the Belper defence resolute.
On the one occasion they did get a penalty corner, Slane made the save high to his left. As the match wore on, it was clear that the Sheffield side were maintaining the early pace they had shown and that the Belper defence were calmly tracking the runs and making important interceptions. It was a keen contest and one that the supporters seemed to appreciate.
Unfortunately for Belper the Sheffield breakthrough came after 18 minutes when a slack turnover provided Sheffield with the opportunity to win their second penalty corner.
On this occasion, Phil Roper made no mistake in firing low into the bottom right corner to give his side the lead.
Unlike previous weeks, Belper retained their cool and continued to play to their system. The Sheffield attacks continued to come but the Belper defensive six worked tirelessly to prevent giving away any space that could be exploited.
The tactic of filling the space behind the ball was clearly working and some Sheffield players were getting irritated by their lack of progress.
This started to spur on the Belper players and they started to try and move the ball forward faster to try and get at the Sheffield defence.
It was one such attempt that lead to Sheffield’s second goal. As Belper ended another Sheffield attack, the ball was being moved into the midfield on the left side of the pitch when a sloppy turnover of the ball occurred.
With the Belper defence suddenly out of position it was a three-on-two situation that allowed Sheffield to attack the back line, draw Slane from his goal and allow David Smith the time and space to fire the ball into an empty net from an unmarked position and it was 2-0 on 35 minutes.
Again Belper reacted positively with some good defence and Luke Davies benefitting from some good running by Sherratt to see two shots saved by the Sheffield ‘keeper.
Right at the death, Belper were unlucky to have James Blackwell green carded for ‘breaking down play’. His two minute suspension being rolled over into the start of the second half.
The message form coach Lamb at half time was simple, more of the same and the need to keep the shape and make simple passes.
Any mistakes were going to be punished by a hungry Sheffield side that moved the ball with ease across the pitch and exploiting any space that became available.
Despite the pep talk, Belper struggled in the opening exchanges of the second half as Blackwell’s presence was missed.
Belper were struggling to get the ball out from the back and the Sheffield side were pressing hard. Too often the Belper side were guilty of ball watching as their team mates were systematically put under pressure and forced backwards by the Sheffield front line.
The Sheffield side made earned their third penalty corner on 38 minutes. On this occasion Roper deceived the Belper defence with a disguised flick that Slane got his stick to and took some of the pace off.
Unfortunately, the diving Inshaw was unable to stop the ball crossing the line despite an athletic dive and it was 3-0 on 28 minutes.
It was at this stage that Belper started to try and take the game to Sheffield and were frustrated as the opposition continually broke the play down as Belper emerged from their defensive 25 with the ball.
The umpire, having seemingly forgotten that he had penalised Belper for this in the first half, was extremely lenient on Sheffield for this cynical play.
As Belper pushed forward they became increasingly stretched. This was exactly what Sheffield wanted as they were able to make the passes that Belper had been denying them up until this point.
With the space opening up, so did the gap in the team’s abilities to adjust to the state of play.
Sheffield added another two unanswered goals through former Nailer Dan Berry and Matt Gough in the 46th and 54th minutes.
Coach Lamb took the opportunity to give Dan Darby some pitch time and also bring on Rich Cassidy and Dougie Campbell.
This appeared to work as the Belper forwards earned a couple of penalty corners. From one James Blackwell found the net to register Belper’s first goal in three games in the 66th minute.
Unfortunately for Belper this just spurred Sheffield back into action and they added a further two goals in the last four minutes through Rhys Gowman and Tristan Gilbody. Darby had no chance with either goal as he found himself outnumbered on both occasions by a myriad of Sheffield strikers.
It was a disappointing end to a game that should have produced a different scoreline if Belper had held their structure and discipline.
This Saturday, Belper face a huge game which could be a defining moment in the club’s season.
Deeside Ramblers visit the Meadows for a 1.30pm start.
All support would be very welcome.