EHL Men’s Conference North
University of Durham 3
A DEPLETED Belper succumbed to their usual defeat against bogey side Durham but there were plenty of positives tot ake from the game.
Nick Morris, Chris Hall and Tom Sherratt were all out but despite the losses, the squad looked forward to the task ahead and were boosted by the return of Jake Bullock and Toby Hooker.
The match started in glorious sunshine on a pitch that was slow in places but played well.
The initial exchanges were cagey with the first goal scoring opportunities falling to Belper. Ben Walton had his first attempt at goal stopped by the keeper but the rebound fell unkindly and the Durham defence was able to clear.
Belper pressed quite well on Durham’s defensive play and after a short while this started to tell as Durham had to resort to aerial passes to get the ball out from the back.
Frequently the Durham forwards were able to find space behind Belper as they pressed, but they were unable to create any clear cut goal scoring opportunities.
Belper’s best chance of the half came as David Ebbage picked the ball up from an Adam Bull pass to turn easily past his marker. He then managed a delightful touch to take the ball past the loitering sweeper and create a shooting opportunity.
Unfortunately the shot failed to trouble the Durham ‘keeper and passed wide of the far post.
Durham hit back by moving the ball with more purpose through the Belper lines.
The hosts managed to work the ball into the Belper circle from wide and find the foot of skipper Richard Kitchen and earn a penalty corner.
Durham has always presented a powerful corner battery and this season appears to be no different. With Scottish U21 international Dan Coultas their main drag flicker, the penalty corner was always going to be Durham’s main route to goal. On this occasion Slane made a low save and Jake Bullock was able to clear the rebound.
Ebbage was unlucky to come off worse in a 50:50 and required play to be stopped as he left the pitch giving Belper the opportunity to hand Adam Innocent his National League debut.
Adam’s initial touches were very promising with his ball speed being very high and his off the ball movement causing issues for the Durham defenders trying to track him.
The points really were up for grabs. Belper finished the half looking the stronger earning two penalty corners but the routines were not slick enough and the chances went amiss.
The remainder of the half saw the Belper forwards grow in confidence and the back four transfer the ball at pace with much more ease.
The Durham team attacked straight from the restart but were halted by a combination of Adam Bull and Jake Bullock. The restart worked beautifully with Dave Ebbage finding Ben Walton who, in turn found himself in space and drove towards the Durham circle.
As the sweeper stepped towards Ben he played a long pass to Luke Davies whose movement had resulted in him finding a large amount of space.
As Ben’s accurate pass found Luke he was in acres of space to either shoot or pass. Luke made the right decision and fired the ball at pace outside the far post for the arriving Rich Cassidy to tip home past the ‘keeper and Belper led 1-0 on 36 minutes.
This was by a clear margin the best goal Belper have worked this season involving quick transfer of the ball between lines, high ball speed and good decision making.
This goal spurred the team on as they took the game to Durham.
As Durham struggled to get going after the break Belper almost doubled their lead. Ben Walton benefited from good work from Ben Inshaw on the right and found himself one on one with the Durham ‘keeper. Ben’s initial shot was well saved by the ‘keeper but was presented with another chance as the rebound fell kindly.
With the ‘keeper grounded, but still forming a considerable barrier, and defenders closing in, Ben took a quick snapshot at the goal only to see his effort fall narrowly wide.
It was unfortunate as Belper would have been worth a two-goal lead.
After a spluttering few minutes Durham finally got into their stride and put the Belper side under some pressure.
When Belper tried to move the ball out from the back, they were pressed by a hard working frontline and had difficulty getting the ball into the Belper midfield.
As Belper held on a couple of turnovers saw the ball coming straight back at the defence moments after they had released the ball forward.
It was from one such turnover that Richard Kitchen was pulled across the circle to a counter-attacking forward who attempted to fire the ball back to the top of the circle.
The ball hit Kitchen’s foot and Durham were awarded the penalty corner.
On this occasion skipper Kitchen was the first runner out and managed to block Coultas’s initial shot on goal and force the striker wide.
He was able to get a reverse stick strike off that Slane managed to save with his left hand but the ball fell kindly to Hugh Robinson who hammered the ball under Slane on the half volley to even the scores at 1-1 on 48 minutes.
The Durham forwards pressed even harder and the back four found it more difficult to work the ball out of defence.
Eventually the pressure told and Soon Durham were creating more chances. Slane made a couple of blocks but was left stranded on one occasion when a forward was allowed too much time and space and was able to go around the ‘keeper.
With little option but to put the ball out of play over the backline a penalty corner was conceded.
This time Durham made no mistake as Coultas fired the ball home past Slane and Blackwell for 2- 1 after 56 minutes.
Belper reacted to this set back by pushing harder when the ball came out of defence and midfield and on one occasion created a golden opportunity for an equaliser when Blackwell and Innocent combined well to feed Inshaw who fired a cross past the back post.
Davies dived for the ball and made contact but could only watch in agony as his effort passed centimetres beyond the goal.
This was another example of how when Belper do things simply, they can cause the opposition serious problems.
Unfortunately this was to be the last opportunity to present itself to Belper.
As the visitors players tired, Durham dominated possession and play.
The Belper back line started to struggle after both Hawkes and Kitchen picked up knocks.
Toby Hooker was introduced at left back and made a quick impact making an important tackle just after coming on.
Durham wrapped up the game with another penalty corner in the 61st minute. Coultas again the man on target with a powerful low flick past Slane for 3-1 on 61 minutes.
Belper continued to fight and earned a greater share of the possession from this point on and can count themselves unlucky not to have had a penalty corner of their own after some cynical breaking down of play by Durham that went unpunished by the umpire.
Coach Lamb was in upbeat mood after the game: “I told the guys that they have a right to be frustrated today as this was a great opportunity to take some points at a difficult venue for us.”
“We played good hockey and, corners aside, created the better goal scoring opportunities.
“We are still learning as a team and have seen how important it is to take the chances that come your way in this league.”
Lamb was also keen to point out the positives from the trip north; “We dictated play for a considerable portion of the game and caused a good team significant problems.
“We need to take those positives forward into this week’s match against Barford Tigers.”
Belper v Barford on Saturday starts at 1.30pm.