Belper United came from 2-1 down to secure their place in the quarter final of the East Midlands Counties League Cup after beating Gedling Miners Welfare at Plains Road.
Two goals in as many minutes from Joshua Wright and James Rushby put the Miners to the sword as they bow out of the competition.
From the off the home side started positively and eagerly looked to warm any pre-match apprehensions on an extremely chilly evening at Plains Road. After Jack Jepson and Jimmy Spiers had linked up well early on, Courtney Hasting’s stinging shot after only 3 minutes offered early indication they were up for this one.
On the contrary, Belper started hesitantly and their rushed approached, teamed with a lack of composure when in possession, meant their opening exchanges were unsettling. With 8 minutes played, Jepson should really have put Gedling a goal up but his shot, after superb interplay between Mason Coy and Spiers, was skewed wide after Sam Mellor’s cross found him unmarked.
The hosts continued to play some neat and impressive football and United struggled with the relentless pressure put on them in the early stages. With 13 minutes gone, Ross McCaughey and Coy linked up well down the left but after the midfielder created some space for a shot, his effort sailed over the crossbar as Miners enjoyed an early spell of dominance.
The visitors’ first venture forward came after the quarter hour but as Joshua Wright found some space to cleverly play in James Rushby, the striker was adjudged to have strayed offside and the play was halted in a move that exemplified Belper’s start to the game.
Gedling continued to control the tie and sensed an early goal was not long in coming. After some more fine work down the right between Jepson and Coy, the latter’s cross found the improvised movement of Jurgen Charlesworth but the wide man could only spoon his shot over his target with 20 minutes on the watch.
Despite their start, Belper would always look to pose a threat with their lively attacking trio of Rushby, Sam Vickers and Ryan Baker in their ranks and the signs were starting to show that their comprehensive Derbyshire Senior Cup win over Ilkeston Town earlier this month was no fluke.
In their best move of the match, Baker did well to spring the offside trap after being found by Rushby but after finding himself in on goal from an angle, home ‘keeper Danny Brown did well to spread himself to thwart the effort. From the rebound and Vickers had the ball in the net but the assistant on the near side had deemed the winger to be already in an offside as the ball was played.
Feeling aggrieved, the visitors finally showed their capabilities and started to slowly enter the fray with some promising stuff. However, it was back to the drawing board in the 22nd minute when, deservedly, Gedling took the lead.
After a wide cross from Charlesworth was parried away, somewhat unconvincingly by Mark Rathbone in the away goal, Joe Meakin was on hand to pick up the loose pieces and his unstoppable effort flew over the ‘keeper and via the underside of the bar as he notched only his 2nd goal of the campaign – a fine strike by the midfielder who was excellent on the night.
Belper reacted well to going a goal behind and may have gone back on level terms only 3 minutes later but Rushby’s header, after being found by Alfie Holland, crashed back off the crossbar as Brown could only watch in hope.
Now starting to enjoy more possession after absorbing the early tireless pressure, Belper started to create more and find more freedom as they set about getting back into the cup tie. Looking to Rushby as their talisman, the striker was enjoying a better spell than in the opening minutes and it was unsurprising when, on 32 minutes, he was creator in United’s equaliser.
After a driving run from deep by Wright, his pass inside to Rushby was crisp and after characteristic hold up play from the number 9, his lay off found Vickers who nonchalantly caressed the ball into the top far corner to draw Belper level.
An evenly poised game with both sides enjoying spells of dominance and possession that worried their opponents. In the latter stages of the half, both had good chances to into the break leading.
Having been found by Hastings, Charlesworth wasted a good chance to put Gedling back in the driving seat but, after he was found by Hastings, his goal bound effort was always curling wide. 4 minutes before the interval and United had a glorious chance to turn the game around but following Baker’s election to square a pass rather than shoot, the combined efforts of Barry Payne and Charlie Roberts prevented Vickers from doubling his tally.
4 minutes after the break and Coy kept Rathbone on his toes as the ‘keeper turned the midfielder’s effort around the post as it was creeping into the bottom corner. From the resultant corner, Spiers, loitering with intent on the edge of the area, drilled a shot through a crowded penalty area but Rathbone did well to collect as Gedling looked to emulate their first half exploits.
At the other end, and United may have taken the lead for the first time but after Baker smartly broke the offside trap once again, his low and wicked cross from the right was just out of reach of Vickers whose slide at the back post was profitless.
With both sides now fully committed to the affair amidst a bitter turn in weather, and despite Belper going the closest to adding to the scoreline, a counter-attack down the other end on 54 minutes saw Gedling regain the lead in fine fashion.
This time, Charlesworth found Hastings and the striker, with plenty left to do, did wonderfully to fathom an effort after turning Matthew Adcock inside out with great control and his controlled shot found the bottom corner of the near post to put the home side back in front.
3 minutes later and Gedling may have put the tie to bed but when McCaughey’s gallivanting run down the left created space for a terrific cross, Charlesworth, arriving late at the back stick, couldn’t direct his effort and his volley was misjudged.
As it were, going behind and the spurned opportunity appeared to kick-start a revival from the visitors as they began to get a foothold of the game – not too dissimilar from the first period – and, following a cagey 10 minutes midway through the half, they turned the game on its head.
From the right, Dean Oliver found time and space in behind an unaware Charlesworth and he wonderfully picked out Wright, arguably the smallest player on the field, who headed home unopposed into the bottom corner to level the score for the second time.
Now level, the visitors went for the jugular and seemingly knew they were always in with a shout of taking the lead for the first time in the game and 2 minutes later they did just that.
Finding lines between the Gedling midfield, Oliver’s pass found Baker, again timing his run well, and whilst his shot was deflected by the onrushing Brown, who again did well, the ball fell kindly to Rushby who had the simple task of passing the ball home into an unguarded net.
After all their hard work was undone, the hosts were always spirited and felt the score was unjust based on their performance. Shortly before being substituted, Coy went close again but, after nice footwork on the edge of the area allowed the shot, his strike was straight at Rathbone.
Entering the final minutes and the visitors, however, looked good for their lead. Their off-the-ball movement was fantastic and Gedling struggled to cope with the directness of their approach play. 6 minutes from the end and Roberts did superbly to prevent Rushby adding a fourth as his last ditch tackle ensured the deficit remained at one.
Rushby had another excellent chance 4 minutes later after being found by Ben Gowing but his well struck volley from the left was wonderfully tipped to safety by Brown who kept his side the affair.
Taking it to the close, Gedling continued to push forward looking to force the game to a penalty shootout. In the dying seconds Meakin found substitute Raheen Suban, replacing Hastings, and his thunderous strike through a crowd of players, destined for the top corner, was tremendously tipped over by Rathbone who deservedly received the recognition from his teammates as, seconds after, the referee drew a close an enthralling cup tie at Plains Road.
Despite an encouraging performance and some wonderful football at times, Gedling bow out of the competition at the first time of asking after a bye in the first round. Attention turns back to rectifying their league form on Saturday (24th November) as they travel to Leicestershire to face Barrow Town at Riverside Park, kick off 3pm.