A red card for Rainworth MW player-manager Scott Rickards late in the first half led to the Wrens’ second half downfall as Belper Town left Kirklington Road with a 4-1 Evo-Stik NPL victory on Saturday.
Rainworth were already down to the bare bones as they took on play-off bound Belper, who had already qualified for the play-offs who were still seeking to improve their league position to raise hopes of a home tie.
Rainworth on the other hand were safe from relegation and, with a depleted side, were happy to get to the end of season and their Notts FA Senior Cup final with no further reduction to their squad.
The game quickly came to life when in the first minute a Belper free kick was flicked on by Chris Jones, but James Martin was equal to it as he tipped it over at the expense of a corner.
The seventh minute saw Jon Froggatt’s cross headed just past the upright by Steve Warne.
At this stage Belper were the dominant side and, despite a couple of neat passing moves, Rainworth had failed to threaten the Belper goal.
That was until the 13th minute when Jack Hawkins had their first chance, volleying just over the bar.
Scott Rickard’s free kick in the 25th minute struck the defensive wall and was easily gathered by Scot Low.
The game by this time had started to degenerate into a game of ping-pong.
While it was Belper who were having the lion’s share of the play at this stage, Rainworth came close again when, after a good build-up, Hawkins’ shot was deflected.
In the 33rd minute a fast Rainworth break broke down when Hawkins hit the shot well wide.
Then came the incident that changed the whole complexion of the game when, in the 38th minute, Colin Marrison blocked off Rickards as he passed the ball, the kick aimed in retaliation was seen by the referee and he was shown a red card.
This was obviously a follow-up to an incident a few minutes earlier when Marrison had escaped punishment for foul play on Rickards.
The final minutes of the half saw Belper try to press home their man advantage and in the 40th minute, with the ball seemingly destined for the Rainworth goal, only a last ditch Jobe Shaw clearance prevented a score.
The half ended in controversy when Hawkins found himself with a yellow card for voicing his disgust at yet another Marrison flaying arm going unpunished.
The Rainworth faithful feared the worse as the 10 men set about trying to limit the disadvantage in the second half.
However, in the 48th minute Rainworth were unlucky not to take the lead when Tristran Whitman’s through ball put Ashley Longstaff through on goal. With only the goalkeeper to beat, Longstaff fell to the ground clutching his hamstring and the chance was gone.
Longstaff was immediately replaced by Kieran Coupe, but of more concern was his availability for the Notts Senior Cup final, with Rickards already a doubt because of the pending suspension.
Rainworth were visibly shaken by the loss of their leading striker, but they still refused to capitulate against a strong Belper unit.
That almost changed in the 57th minute when Martin, unsure if he could pick the ball up, fly-hacked it against Froggatt and Marrison’s header from the rebound was tipped round by Martin.
It was nearly all Belper now and in the 65th minute Froggatt who appeared offside but it was not given, luckily shot wide of the upright.
Then came the inevitable as Belper’s pressure told. Aaron Cole’s cross was headed goalwards by Marrison and, although Martin got his hands to it, he could only deflect it onto the post and into the net.
From the kick off Rainworth broke and Dan Williams had Low saving at full stretch as they refused to capitulate.
The extra man was starting to tell as Rainworth tired, and from a corner Phillip Watt somehow managed to put the chance over.
The respite was short-lived as Belper broke down the left and Rainworth old boy James Cullingworth placed his shot low into the corner to double their lead.
A couple of minutes later as a Warne shot was deflected onto Froggatt’s head, only Martin’s fingertips prevented another score.
The third duly came as a point blank Froggatt header was brilliantly saved by Martin but Froggatt made no mistake with the rebound.
Rainworth, however, wouldn’t be denied and they scored the goal of the match as Matt Bowles set up Whitman, whose fiercely hit shot from the edge of the area found the top corner.
With seconds of the game remaining Sam Duncum received the ball in an offside position, this was missed by the assistant referee and he beat Martin with a shot in the corner to give the scoreline a rather flattering feel to it.
This result hinged on the red card and, whilst there can be no complaints about the final result, it may have been different with 11-a-side.
For Rainworth, an already threadbare squad may now lose Rickards and Longstaff for the Notts Senior Cup Final, with the hope there are no further casualties in the remaining three league games.
RAINWORTH: Martin, Edridge, Williams, Lloyd, Shaw, Dudley, Bowles, Rickards, Longstaff (Coupe 49), Hawkins, Whitman. Sub not used: Rogers.
WRENS MAN OF THE MATCH: Mark Dudley.