Unconvincing BULWELL’S status as title favourites is on rocky ground after another defeat in the Central Midlands Leagu’s South Division.
The Bulls were angered by the poor quality of refereeing on their trip to high-riding Belper United. Indeed a club spokesman described some of the “dubious decision” as “borderline cheating (against both sides)”.
But there were few excuses for a 3-2 defeat, which means they have now lost three of their opening eight games this season and sit as low as ninth in the table, already 11 points behind Mickleover Royals, who are blazing an unbeaten trail at the top.
Ian Lowe’s side badly need a pick-me-up, yet they face another awkward away trip this coming Saturday -- a local derby against Linby Colliery Welfare.
The match opened at a frantic pace, and Bulwell should have scored in the first five minutes when Jake Fisher ballooned over from eight yards.
Instead, it was Belper who broke the deadlock with a superb effort from Jordan Ball that nestled in the top corner, leaving ‘keeper Scott Miles with no chance.
Miles soon made it clear that he wasn’t happy with the protection he was getting from his defence. And more trouble loomed when one of his defenders, captain Dwayne Soar, had to leave the field temporarily with a cut above his right eye.
Down to ten, Bulwell rallied and chances for both Conor Carter and Lewis Wheelhouse were foiled by the home ‘keeper.
But their frustration began to boil over and Belper took control of the game again, doubling their lead when Sam Vickers intercepted a ball from Felix Hogg across his backline that was miles short and finished with another excellent strike, low to the goalie’s left.
As the home team began to pull the strings in every department, a half to forget for The Bulls was completed when centre-back Alex Oldham was cautioned for just a minor challenge.
The second period opened on a more encouraging note as the visitors began to play some intricate football, inspired by the battling Wheelhouse in midfield.
They were rewarded when halving the deficit in the 58th minute as striker Fisher turned to shoot home from the edge of the area.
But they threw away the impetus they had and after another dodgy booking, this time for Soar, Belper restored their two-goal cushion. It should have been a goalkick rather than a corner, but that didn’t excuse the poor marking that allowed captain Scott Slater to plant a free header at the far post.
Bulwell boss Lowe responded by making three substitutions within ten minutes -- Ako Abdullah, Obinna Abuka and Marek Vipond all being sent into the fray.
They did grab a lifeline nine minutes from the end when Fisher netted his second goal. But the home side held firm for three crucial points.