Narrow defeat and a cup exit but some promising signs for Nailers
IT WAS a weekend of two away defeats for Belper Hockey Club – but they took heart from the performances.
Saturday saw a 1-0 defeat in Conference North at second-placed Bowdon, while Sunday saw the Nailers bow out of the EH Cup 3-2 after pushing Premier League Hampstead & Westminster all the way.
The league game saw the Nailers up against Bowdon for the first time since being hammered 10-0 by them in the EH Cup last season.
The Manchester side were quickly into their stride but while the Belper defence was looking resilient, their own attempts to get forward too often resulted in turnovers.
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It was an occasion like that which led to the game's only goal after 21 minutes.
A turnover saw the Nailers endure a period of deep defence, Bowdon making 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, a simple pass unlocked the Belper defence and Ian Hardingham had the time and space to control and fire the ball high into the roof of the net.
Coach Duncan Woods committed his side to going forward after the break, introducing Jake Bullock and Aathavan Lingeswaren in midfield and Tom Sherratt and debutant Adrian Palmer up front.
The changes almost paid instant dividends, as Palmer came close to beating Bowdon keeper Robbie Turner with a flicked shot but saw his effort tipped away.
Two great chances fell to Walton during this period but he was foiled twice, Turner making a particularly good stop from the second of them.
As Belper pressed, Bowdon began to threaten on the counter but keeper Neill Slane was equal to anything they threw at him through a series of penalty corners.
The Nailers thought they had the equaliser after a crash ball from Sam Hawkes was tipped home by Steve Batten, only for the umpires to order a retake of the free hit.
Rich Cassidy went close, James Blackwell had a penalty corner saved, then, right at the death, Palmer fired a shot over the bar from another penalty corner at the Nailers came up short.
Despite the defeat, Woods was upbeat.
"It's great to see us building as a side week on week now," he said.
"Some of our play was excellent and all we need now is to put away our chances."
On Sunday, the Nailers were only able to take 11 players to Hampstead for their EH Cup tie but they were soon dreaming of an upset when Adam Innocent delivered a defence-splitting pass from the right and David Ebbage supplied a clinical finish after only four minutes.
The dream did not last long, as the Premier League side stormed back, capitalising on a couple of slack turnovers to take a 2-1 lead through Will Naylor and Dave Edmonds.
Back came the Nailers, however, and Cassidy's reverse-stick shot just before half-time saw them back on terms.
Despite being unable to make any substitutions, the Nailers dominated the second half without being able to score again.
They looked set to take the tie into extra time but were undone with a minute left.
Slane made another good save but the rebound fell kindly for Hampstead striker Andrew Smith to rifle the ball home.
Even then, Belper had one last chance straight from the pushback but the ball flashed across goal with three players unable to supply the vital finishing touch.
"It was a great game to watch for the neutral with everything you would want a game to have," said manager Lynne Morgan.
"We were unlucky but if we continue to play like this, we should be collecting plenty more points in the league as the season progresses."