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Eight of Blackstones' 10 league losses have come against the top four sides




Joint Blackstones boss Lee Clarke is hoping a rousing second half performance in their final game of the season will have given his side the confidence that they can compete with the top sides in Division One of the United Counties League next term.

Stones went down to a 3-2 home defeat at the ALH Recruitment Stadium on Saturday against an Anstey Nomads side who, despite the victory, were pipped to the title on the final day of the Division One season by Lutterworth Town.

It was the 10th defeat of the league campaign for Clarke and Daniel French's side - with eight of those losses coming against the four sides who have finished above the fifth-placed Stones.

And, after seeing his side respond well to being 3-0 down at the interval with a strong second half showing, Clarke wants the final 45 minutes of the campaign to give his players belief that they can match the division's leading lights.

Blackstones went down to a 3-2 home defeat against Anstey. Photo: Alan Walters. (9258632)
Blackstones went down to a 3-2 home defeat against Anstey. Photo: Alan Walters. (9258632)

He said: "It was a lot better second half, but we were a bit naive without the ball and sloppy with it in the first half which was frustrating.

"The second half was two-fold - it was pleasing because we asked for a reaction at half-time. We told the players to show themselves because they had 45 minutes of the season left. It's then frustrating that we haven't done it from the start.

"The second half was a good way to finish the season and we were pleased that we came back out and gave a good account of ourselves.

"After the first half, we didn't want people going away thinking we had sacked it off because it was the last game of the season. That's not what we're about in our changing room.

"We showed a bit of fight in the second half which was pleasing.

"It's been frustrating though that we've lost 10 league games and eight of those have been home and away against the four teams above us.

"There's a slight psychological issue there in that have we really got the belief that we can beat the teams at the top of the league?

"It's something we have to work on because player for player and, when we perform like that, we can match them but do we have the belief? It's the one thing that's in doubt when we play the top teams.

"We've still got a good platform to build on for next seson. We always knew we were a level below the top three - Lutterworth Town, Anstey and Melton - but it shows we can compete at that level.

"We can raise our standards to that level and it sends the boys off with a bit of confidence ready for next season."

Blackstones went down to a 3-2 home defeat against Anstey. Photo: Alan Walters. (9258589)
Blackstones went down to a 3-2 home defeat against Anstey. Photo: Alan Walters. (9258589)

Stones fell behind after just seven minutes of Saturday's match as Cosmo Matwasa jinked his way into space before rifling in a low strike through a crowd of players and past an unsighted Aaron Bellairs in the home goal.

Darren Taylor then flashed a shot just wide for the visitors before Bellairs produced a fine save to tip over an effort from Josh Gough.

The Stones custodian was powerless though to prevent Anstey from doubling their lead just ahead of the half-hour mark when Corey Armeni curled home a fine finish to put the visitors in control.

Bellairs did well to hold onto a difficult effort from Finley Jones before Sam Thorpe smashed a thunderous effort against the home crossbar.

The inevitable third goal did follow two minutes before the break though when Armeni's cross picked out Jones to head home to give the visitors a comfortable advantage at half-time.

Stones, to their credit, rallied themselves at the interval and were much improved after the break with Ben Cowles heading an early second half opening over at the back post.

Jones saw an acrobatic overhead kick go narrowly wide at the other end before Bellairs again excelled with a top drawer stop to turn Thorpe's effort over the bar after the Anstey forward had raced clear.

Stones then reduced the arrears with 15 minutes remaining as Cowles curled in a corner which was converted from close range by Matt Simpson.

Blackstones went down to a 3-2 home defeat against Anstey. Photo: Alan Walters. (9258621)
Blackstones went down to a 3-2 home defeat against Anstey. Photo: Alan Walters. (9258621)

This sparked a late onslaught from the home side and they should have added a second when lively substitute Lewis Morley robbed Anstey goalkeeper Joseph Smith and teed up Joe Moore-Papworth who fired over with the goal at his mercy.

Cowles then clattered another effort against the Anstey crossbar before Jones De Sousa saw a first-time effort palmed over by Smith.

The upright again saved Anstey from Cowles' curling corner before Jake Pell was denied from close range at another setpiece.

The home side did add a second goal in injury-time when Morley scored his first goal for the club with a cracking top corner finish.

But, despite the late revival, Stones were unable to find an equaliser as Anstey ensured they prepared for Premier Division football next season with a winning finale to the campaign.

Stones: Bellairs, Easson, Bates, Pell, Simpson, Fox, Cowles, Moore-Papworth, Clarke, De Sousa, Edmondson (Morley). Subs not used: Westley, Ellison, Archer.

Anstey: Smith, Dawson, Taylor, Preston, Gough (J Hopewell), Matwasa, D Hopewell, Thorpe, Armeni, Chitiza, Jones. Subs not used: Wolff, Hicks, Blount.



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