Belper’s emerging under-21 team suffered late heartbreak when a last-minute goal denied them a point against last season’s League champions, Ilkeston FC, in a 3-2 defeat.
Predictably, Ilkeston opened the game full of running and played the ball around with the air of a team high on confidence.
And they didn’t have to wait long for their opening goal when the Nailers conceded a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area after 17 minutes.
Curtis Burrows stepped up and drove the ball low inside the post, giving Nailers ‘keeper Mark Rathbone no chance.
But the Nailers’ young guns responded and restored parity after 28 minutes when Sam Vickers nipped in ahead of full-back Jordan Wheatley and embarked on a run from the halfway line before dispatching the ball crisply inside the post.
A defensive lapse then allowed Belper’s Sam Birks to race clear from the halfway line and he calmly slotted the ball past the advancing Jahquell Hill.
Just when it looked as Belper would reach the midway point with their lead intact, hesitancy at the back allowed Tyler Johal to turn and roll the ball into the corner of the net.
The teams traded blows in a watchable second half but as the game wore on, the superior fitness of Ilkeston’s full time players began to influence the game.
The young Nailers were staging a ‘backs to the wall’ as the game entered its final stages but just when it looked as though they would emerge with a valuable point, the Robins delivered a hammer blow in the 90th minute.
Substitute Rhys Dolan made ground down the left and as the Belper defence stood off, he calmly slotted the ball past Rathbone.
Belper: Rathbone, J Taylor (Barnes 50), Parker, Worthington, Marshall, Taggart, Harris, Johnson, Birks, Constable (Harrison 71), Vickers (Sanyang 54). Other Subs: Carr, Gilliot
Ilkeston: Hill, Wheatley, Print, Goddard, Burgess (Head 45), Hodgett-Young (Dolan 70), Shaw, Burrrows, Johal (meakin 80), Morris, Wedderburn. Other Subs: Barlow, Tyrell.