Battling Ipswich give leaders a fright
HOCKEY: Ipswich 1 Belper 2. Ipswich gave league leaders Belper the biggest fright of their season in a blood-and-thunder thriller at Henley Road. Champions elect of Division Two of the English Hockey League, Belper have now lost just once in 16 outings, but they came mighty close to having that total doubled.
Ipswich 1 Belper 2
IPSWICH gave league leaders Belper the biggest fright of their season in a blood-and-thunder thriller at Henley Road.
Champions elect of Division Two of the English Hockey League, Belper have now lost just once in 16 outings, but they came mighty close to having that total doubled.
The side who were averaging more than five goals a game were brought down to earth by a gutsy Ipswich team who worked their socks off and were desperately unlucky not to come out of the game with something.
Although the result drops Ipswich to bottom place after Bromley's single goal success against Oxford Hawks, they have little to fear in their last six matches if they continue to play with such style.
Despite falling behind in the first minute to a stunning goal, Ipswich refused to play the part of whipping posts. A few weeks ago they might have caved in and conceded a cricket score, but now, made of much sterner stuff, they not only gave as good as they got, but also reduced the men from Derbyshire to nervous wrecks who were glad to hear the final whistle.
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Without the services of Jonathan Cuff and Oliver Didham, both involved for different reasons in a schools cup competition, Ipswich fought like tigers with the starting 11 remaining on the pitch throughout.
They fell behind in the first minute after losing possession to Nick Morris, but his pass to Mick Huckle seemed innocuous enough until he made himself a little space at the top of the circle before firing an unstoppable reverse stick shot high past Stuart Hendy's left hand.
His 14th goal of the season was almost certainly his best, but once Ipswich had contained the threat of front runners Huckle, Morris and James Steadman, they began to ask awkward questions of the Belper defence.
With more assurance in the final third of the field, Ipswich could easily have been ahead at the interval, but Richard Fox, Richard Stainthorpe, Toby Lever and Paul Calver were all denied.
Belper coach Craig Keegan, scorer of 28 goals so far, drew a blank for the second week running and his only shot on target brought a smart left-handed save from Hendy.
Five minutes into the second half, the lively Fox delivered a perfect cross to Stainthorpe, but Simon Emsley saved a shot that lacked precision and power.
Andy Swindin saw a hard-driven cross just evade both Stainthorpe and Calver and after 45 minutes Ipswich were made to pay for both those missed chances when Huckle tucked the ball through Hendy's legs and Ben Walton was left with the easiest of tap-ins.
However, within a minute, Ipswich hauled themselves back into the game when the alert Simon Miller converted another cross from Swindin.
With Andy Cook, Chris Palmer, Miller and Calver working tirelessly in midfield, Ipswich kept up the pressure and a mazy run by Stainthorpe ended with Fox again thwarted by Emsley.
Belper were on the ropes and hanging on grimly. And when they finally broke free of the restraints of Nick Fry and Asif Rais at the heart of the Ipswich defence, Hendy brought off a magnificent full length save to deny Chris Lamb.
It's of little consolation to Ipswich that they will play worse and win.
But if this type of performance can be maintained against lesser sides than Belper, then the threat of relegation will disappear fairly rapidly.