Depleted North Notts Hockey Club lost 3-2 to a late goal at high-flying Notts Trent University on Saturday and were left wondering what might have been after a lacklustre first half performance gave them a mountain to climb.
Eager to get back on the right track after losing to league leaders Boots last week, Notts were further hampered by the loss of top goal scorer Allen Butler, midfielder Nathan Smith and influential defender Matthew Cooper.
After the game Notts manager Jay Faulkner said: “We knew today would be difficult, but to be honest we showed way too much respect to our opponents today in the first half. In all fairness we probably deserved a point.
Notts started the game at a slower pace than in previous weeks and it was obvious that the students would be more than a challenge for the Manor Park side as they looked leggy and second best to the ball in the earlier exchanges.
Notts’ tactics were more patient than they probably should have been in the first half and this led to a relentless onslaught from the Trent students, who forced short corner after short corner.
Luckily for Notts they had both Anthony Clay and Paul Unwin in fine form as they stopped a barrage of shots in the first quarter of the game.
A tactical switch in midfield gave Notts a little more impetus and they began to look dangerous on the break against the fragile Trent defence, both Reginald Anthony and Jason Barton creating chances for the away side.
The best chance for Notts fell to William Butler, whose short corner strike was inches too high and ruled out.
Trent got their reward on 17 minutes when some sublime dribbling and movement around the D was finally slotted home from close range, leaving Unwin with little chance.
With Notts still sporadically threatening, manager Faulkner was hoping to go in at half-time just the single goal down or level, and through sheer grit and determination they managed it after more backs to the wall defending.
The half-time team talk was constructive as Faulkner reminded the team that they were more than a match for their opposition.
However, one minute into the second half disaster struck after James Latta broke out of the Notts D with the ball into midfield.
An unwarranted shout from a Notts midfielder for a pass saw Notts lose possession to a quick break that was coolly slotted home to put Trent 2-0 into the lead.
Notts then began to roll their sleeves up and work hard, matching the students tackle for tackle and pass for pass.
William Butler started to dominate in midfield and create chances for the away side.
Another short corner bought Notts a lifeline as, after an initial strike was blocked by a Trent defender, the ball fell to youngster Rhys Jepson, who swept the ball into the goal with a coolness beyond his years.
The goal proved to be a massive boost for Notts who increased the pressure tenfold and the cracks started to show in the Trent defence.
Five minutes later Notts found the equaliser as William Butler slotted home from another short corner.
With the game really coming to life and the tackles flying in, both teams were reduced to 10 men through green cards, Notts losing Reginald Anthony for the customary two minutes.
As the game reached its final 10 minutes it was apparent the students’ squad of 15 were benefiting the side as Notts struggled to quell the onslaught, and on 62 minutes Notts were grateful to Jason Barton for a goal line clearance to keep the scores at parity.
But with five minutes to go Notts finally crumbled and some sloppy defending allowed the Trent forward to scoop the ball high into the top corner.
To their credit Notts continued to push forward and a formation change showed their intentions in the dying minutes, but despite their efforts the equaliser never came.
This weekend North Notts face two home games, Nuneaton in the league and Buxton in the first round of the Hockey Association Vase still without top goal scorer Allen Butler.