Gladiators take the Caroline Melbourne Cup
What better way to end a pre-season campaign than a closely fought game against closest rivals Matlock Town on a superb summer's evening at the DCJ Group Insurance Arena.
PHOTO - Eric Graves heads past Phil Barnes to reduce the deficit (Pic: Tim Harrison)
The fact that the Nailers were unable to retain the Caroline Melbourne Cup seemed almost secondary to the occasion which provided excellent entertainment for the spectators and a was fine testament to the memory of Caroline Melbourne.
The Nailers were without some key players who were unavailable on the night but those who stepped up to fill the gaps did themselves no harm at all as new management duo Ant Danylyk and Paul Donnelly formulate their starting line-up for next Saturday's League opener against Basford United.
The Nailers included trialist Leandro Browne in the starting line-up; a former Gresley player who moved to the United States and is now looking to continue his career back in the UK.
Belper made a solid start to the game and matched their higher placed opponents although Matlock's Darnell Bayley-King showed good pace and accuracy with runs and shots on target in the opening 10 minutes.
Eric Graves might have put Belper ahead on 12 minutes when the ball came to him in the penalty area but he couldn't convert the opportunity, then Rhys Sharpe tested Scott Low with a fiercely struck effort moments later.
However the Nailers were a whisker away from taking the lead mid way through the first half when Matt Harris's turn and curling effort came back off the upright with Phil Barnes powerless to do anything about it.
The Nailers continued to maintain a strong presence in the final third of the pitch, although the Gladiator's threat was slowly becoming more apparent.
In fact they took a one goal lead into the interval when former Burton Albion striker Shaun Harrad glanced a Rhys Sharpe long throw just inside Low's left hand post.
Mark Rathbone replaced Low for the second half and he proved to be the busier of the two 'keepers as Matlock started off as the more dominant force.
Harrod was denied at close range by Rathbone after Bayley-King found him with a great cross and the Nailers found themselves defending more often that they would like as the Gladiators showed their Premier Division credentials.
Belper fought back and Alex Steadman might have done better with an opportunity brought about by a long throw from Sam Weston, and Leandro Browne tested Barnes with a bullet ground shot on 54 minutes all of which lifted Belper spirits.
Hopes were temporarily dashed though when Dwayne Wiley headed in Edward Cribley's 66th minute free kick to give the Gladiators a firm hold on the Cup.
Fitness and determination have been a hallmark of this pre-season campaign and the Nailers deserved to pull one back on 78 minutes when trickery and a great delivery from Browne found the ever dependable Eric Graves who headed home.
The remaining 12 minutes or so were frenetic especially as the Nailers found renewed hope and energy and Matlock had to work hard to combat a resurgent Belper.
As the Nailers moved the ball forward at every opportunity and with the game entering the final minute they produced two fantastic shots in quick succession, both brilliantly dealt with by the Gladiator's 'keeper.
Firstly Josh Barr-Rostron slammed a 25 yard effort goal bound that was far too hot for the 'keeper handle, and then Lawrence Constable followed up with an equally vicious strike that again Phil Barnes had to punch away.
Matlock had won an exceptional game by the narrowest of margins and Mark Melbourne duly presented the Cup to the winning team to round off an enjoyable evening.
Matlock Town: Barnes, Wilson, Green (Coleman 45), Doyle-Charles, Todd (Hunt 67), Wiley, Bayley-King, Cribley (Carvell 75), Harrad (Newsham 56), Hakeem, Sharpe (Wood 45). Sub not used: DeGirolamo.
Belper Town: Low (Rathbone 45), Hunt, Butcher (Weston 56), Graves, Thornberry, Dennis, Goddard (Constable 31), Barr-Rostron, Harris (Clarke 64), Browne, Steadman. Sub not used: J Bullock.
Referee: J O’Connor