North Notts held in thriller with Bridgnorth
North Notts Hockey Club came from behind to lead, but ultimately had to settle for a 2-2 draw at home to Bridgnorth in a thrilling game on Saturday.
Notts went into the game with real belief that they could take all three points against their opponents, despite a 4-1 loss earlier in the season.
With Cooper and Butler returning it meant that the side was back to full strength for one of the few times this season.
The game opened with both sides seeming very cautious and it was apparent that neither team wanted to lose.
Ten minutes in saw the first goal and, unfortunately for Notts, it fell to the visitors.
The Bridgnorth forward, found in acres of space, cracked a shot at goal which keeper Unwin superbly kept out with a great reflex save.
Notts, however, failed to deal with the loose ball and the razor sharp Bridgnorth forward coolly slotted home.
Notts then pushed forward and the home side’s first chance fell to Adam Moss, who skilfully manoeuvred around three Bridgnorth players but failed to get a shot off.
Two minutes later William Butler raced into the D and fired a fierce shot into the sidenetting.
Notts were now finding the groove and it seemed only a matter of time before the equaliser appeared.
With Matt Cooper now involved at the back, Notts were showing more steel and guile pushing forward and, in a frantic two minutes, they came close with top scorer Allen Butler having a shot deflected wide and then a goal disallowed for a previous infringement.
While Notts were creating chances, the skilful Bridgnorth midfield were showing that they were dangerous, Unwin again rescuing Notts on 20 minutes.
Notts’ best chance of the half came from a penalty corner, which again saw Allen Butler foiled by the Bridgnorth keeper.
The words at half-time were ones of encouragement as Notts firmly believed that the game was there for the taking, manager Faulkner telling the players to keep driving forward.
The positive words turned into a goal two minutes into the second half when a slick passing exchange between Moss and Butler found the veteran Barton open, who coolly slotted home from his trademark two yards again, showing he has real predatory instincts around the D.
However, Bridgnorth would not lay down and within a minute Notts were thanking keeper Unwin for another quality save.
The game was now frantic and end to end, with Notts seeming to have the upper hand.
Barton almost gave the home side the lead, but his shot was agonisingly wide.
With Notts having the luxury of three rolling subs, fitness was starting to tell. But somehow Bridgnorth managed to hold firm, mainly due to some good defensive marshalling from their experienced captain at the back.
On 55 minutes it seemed Notts had struck gold as a slick short corner routine found Singleton, who coolly flicked the ball past the diving keeper.
With Notts in raptures and looking like they would go on to further their lead, they were bought down to earth with a bump.
Direct from the restart a slick Bridgnorth move saw them cut the Notts midfield and defence apart with a three-man move, the final pass finding their arguably best player in front of the goal for an open shot at goal, and unfortunately for Notts he made no mistake, drilling the ball past Unwin.
With 15 minutes remaining Notts had to go for broke and the win.
They began to create more chances and Bridgnorth were defending more and more desperately, one such desperate challenge seeing a bad stick tackle on Smith, which resulted in a sin-bin and Bridgnorth down to 10 men.
A flurry of chances came Notts’ way, but none were converted.
Then the most controversial moment of the game a penalty corner broke to forward Allen Butler after a foul on a Notts player and, as Butler coolly slotted home, the umpire blew for the foul in Notts’ favour instead of allowing the advantage.
With another Bridgnorth player dismissed in the dying minutes, Notts reduced the defence and threw another forward on.
The last chance, however, fell to Bridgnorth when it seemed a lifted ball into a Notts player would be blown for danger.
Astonishingly, the umpire gave the decision to the Bridgnorth forward, who drove into the heart of the Notts defence.
Fortunately the attack broke down and seconds later the final whistle was blown.
Manager Faulkner added: “It was a great game that could have gone either way and was played with great spirit from both teams.
“We were really disappointed as we switched off once we went into the lead.
“Hopefully we’ll learn from this. We are still battling for every point, but the next three weeks sees us play third, second, then first in the league, so any points from those games will be a bonus.”