Pride Park 2-3 Belper Town
By David Kwiatek
Above: Hannah Roberts of Pride Park wins a tussle against Belper Town to escape with the ball. Photo: Shaun Hardwick Photo
The weather was fine and the pitch was in good condition for the first home game of the season in the Derbyshire Ladies League Division One. With Summer Evans unavailable through illness, Bleu Lewis-Wilson moved into an attacking role, with Beth Thompson switching from full back to midfield.
Belper made a good start and enjoyed the best of early possession in the opening few minutes, but Pride Park grew into the game, which settled into a sparring contest for twenty or so minutes – with few clear chances created but those that did come were either off target or not really connected with fully, so the goalkeepers weren’t really tested.
Izzy Wilsoncroft, returning after missing two games had made a good start including a couple of forays forward but had to come off after 25 minutes, to be replaced by Hannah Kwiatek – her first outing since an ankle injury at the end of June – to fill in at right back.
Shortly afterwards Maja Znamirowska came on and had an immediate impact, receiving the ball after good build up play, and slotting a precise ball through the Belper back line for Annie Laight to take a touch out of her feet and lash a shot across the ‘keeper and into the far side of the net.
It was typical of how close the game was that the lead only lasted four minutes, before Belper struck back to equalise. However, with half-time approaching Pride Park’s lead was restored when another good move resulted in Annie Laight receiving the ball on the edge of the area and laying it off neatly into the path of Maja Znamirowska, who took the ball in her stride, waited for the keeper to come out and slotted the ball into the bottom left hand corner of the net.
It was to be expected that Belper would up the ante after the interval, and our concentration and application needed to be at its highest in readiness, so it was disappointing that only four minutes after the restart it was all square again at 2-2.
Just after the hour Hannah Kwiatek came off, as her efforts after a long lay-off and lack of pre-season started to catch up with her, so a reshuffle was required with Beth Thompson dropping in at right back and Bleu Lewis-Wilson into midfield, with Jess Page coming on up front.
With around quarter of an hour to play Belper must have thought they had taken the lead when a looping shot seemed to be dropping in over Jade after a deflection, but Jade showed superb agility and reflexes to adjust and somehow managed to push the shot up and over the bar.
A couple of minutes later there was a chance at the other end; Maja Znamirowska was clear through and one-on-one with Emma Varnam in the Belper goal, who dived at the striker’s feet and diverted Maja’s shot. She may not have known an awful lot about it, but it was nevertheless a good save.
Shortly after that Sophie Ayton stayed down after rolling her ankle in a challenge for the ball, and we all held our breath. Fortunately, she was able to continue after treatment.
There were four minutes left to play when the game’s decisive moment came. Belper attacked down the right and put in a cross from the wing. Sophie Ayton advanced to try to clear on the half volley under challenge from a Belper player, but the ball bounced up awkwardly and hit her arm. The Belper players had been appealing incessantly throughout the game for handballs – most, if not all, of which had been imaginary – presumably in the belief the law of averages says they would have to get one eventually.
There was an inevitable crescendo of appeals, and the referee duly obliged. There’s no real argument, however, that it was a handball on this occasion, and a penalty, although a case could be made for a foul on Ayton as she attempted the clearance – if only judging by the angry red weals left by studs raked across her knee from the challenge as she attempted the clearance. It’s typical of the Pride Park player that she made no real fuss and just got up and got on with it.
Alice Faulding took the penalty for Belper and made no mistake with a firmly struck shot to Jade Howell’s left.
It was a bitter pill and with only four minutes left not much time to salvage anything – but within a minute Pride Park were inches away from grabbing an equaliser, as Maja Znamirowska was denied again by an outstretched hand from Varnam in the Belper goal.
There was still time for Pride Park to win a corner in the dying moments, sending everyone upfield. Tash Allderidge delivered another terrific ball in, which resulted in a melee in and around the Belper six yard box, as defenders tried to hack the ball away and attackers tried to find the scoring touch. There were at least two headers/shots parried away by the ‘keeper, before a shot from Rachel Weaver was blocked, the rebound falling to Hannah Roberts on the edge of the area. Rather than go for power she lifted a delicate shot up over the crowd of bodies in front of her, and with the goalkeeper stranded saw her shot rebound off the top of the crossbar and out for a goal kick. It would have been a terrific way to mark her 50th appearance but, more importantly, would have salvaged a point.
It was, more or less, the last action of what had been an enthralling and entertaining game described on Belper’s social media after the game as “a fantastic advert for the game at this level with both sides working to play football”. We can only second that.
It was telling that Belper also named their ‘keeper, Emma Varnam as their POTM, and we would have no cause to disagree with that either, as a string of excellent saves by her – including one that struck her in the face – ultimately made the difference.
Despite the disappointment of another defeat we can take encouragement from our build up play and the chances we created in a game that was extremely close fought, and which could have gone either way. Another close and competitive game is in prospect next Sunday, when Park host Wirksworth Colts at Moorways (1.30pm).