It was a frustrating weekend for Holcombe’s men and women with both unable to pick up the results they wanted.
England Hockey Women’s National Premier League
Slough HC 2-2 Holcombe HC
Scorers: Slough HC: Hannah Bowe, Louise Bevan
Holcombe HC: Sarah Jones, Steph Elliott
Slough Hockey Club, Slough
Following last weekend’s victory at home to struggling Reading, Holcombe travelled to a Slough side equally desperate for points.
Saturday’s hosts went into the game just three points ahead of the relegation playoff spot after amassing just three wins throughout their 15 games to date. By comparison, the Kent side came into the contest as winners of 4 straight games and unbeaten in 2017.
The game started at a frantic pace with the home side looking to unsettle Holcombe in the early stages. The Kent outfit dominated proceedings, forcing their opponents to defend deep within their own half and subjecting them to an occasional counter attack as a means apply some pressure of their own.
A fervently vocal home crowd accompanied a desperation in the home side’s defence in the opening period. Two early penalty corners went begging for the visitors and a rare foray into the Holcombe half was well dealt with by Emma Trunks and Leah Wilkinson after a route one ball made its way out of the Slough defence.
14 minutes in however and it was the home side that took a surprise lead. A cheap turnover high up the pitch allowed Hannah Bowe to walk into the top of the circle and unleash a ferocious strike past Grace Lawes in the Holcombe goal.
The Kent side immediately went back on the offensive and were rewarded 8 minutes later with the equaliser. A swift counter attack from Quanita Bobbs and Sarah Jones down the right flank set through Ellie Watton. Her reverse stick strike was well saved but Watton was first to the ball and fired in a cross to Jones. A strong first touched allowed Jones to beat the final defender before unleashing a powerful strike to level the score.
Holcombe continued to pressure their opponents and a great through ball from Emma Trunks nearly doubled their advantage. Florencia Zapulla had pulled away from the last defender to receive the 50 yard pass but was unable to get a shot away with the recovering Slough defence.
After a chance to regroup at the interval, it took 11 minutes for Holcombe to take the lead. Captain Steph Elliott found herself in space at the top of the Slough circle to fire home and give her side the advantage.
Epitomising the desperation with which they played the game, it took the hosts 6 minutes to find a response and level the score line. Louise Bevan made a driving run down the right hand side before somehow managing to slide the ball under the advancing Lawes.
Late chances went begging for both sides as Slough held on for a crucial point in their fight for survival.
Speaking after the game, Holcombe Captain Steph Elliott was left frustrated with a point; “We just unfortunately didn’t stick to the game plan for the whole 70 minutes. We tried to dribble too much instead of playing round them and they broke us down and made it a scrappy game. It was a very frustrating game in general as we had opportunities and just didn’t take them. We’re still second in the league though and need to get something out of the next two weeks just to really solidify that spot which I believe we can do.”
Next weekend, Holcombe travel to fourth-placed University of Birmingham where a single point would guarantee them a place in the 2nd v 3rd Playoff Semi-Final.
England Hockey Men’s National Premier League
East Grinstead HC 4-1 Holcombe HC
Scorers: East Grinstead HC: Ashley Jackson x2, Martin Scanlon, Simon Faulkner
Holcombe HC: Nick Bandurak
Saint Hill, East Grinstead
Second-placed Holcombe travelled to sixth-placed East Grinstead on Sunday, looking to cement their place at the England Hockey Playoffs at Lee Valley in April.
The Saint Hill side have endured a troubled season awash with injuries and unavailability. With the return of Chris Griffiths to fitness, the hosts welcomed back the final piece to their attacking group.
With Ashley Jackson and Nick Catlin making the move from Holcombe Park to Saint Hill since the end of last season, Sunday presented the first time that the two would be re-united with their former colleagues in the same game.
With both sides missing key players, it was the home side that started the stronger. Some well worked out-letting patterns forced Holcombe deep within their own half as East Grinstead moved the ball around well. Former players Ashley Jackson and Nick Catlin pulled the strings in Midfield and created a number of early openings.
Despite struggling to stamp their authority on proceedings, Holcombe operated well in deep defence and minimised any clear-cut opportunities for the hosts. Despite their best efforts, East Grinstead dealt a crushing blow with two goals in two minutes from penalty corners.
After a well worked head-side deflection was stunningly saved by George Pinner in the Holcombe goal, the rebound fell to Martin Scanlon who made no mistake from close range to open the scoring. Two minutes later and Ashley Jackson doubled the score with a corner strike of his own, beating pinner low to his left.
Paddy Smith remained untroubled in the East Grinstead goal as Holcombe failed to apply any sustained periods of pressure in an uncharacteristically lacklustre first period.
With time winding down at the end of the first period, East Grinstead were able to add another, yet again from a penalty corner. Simon Faulkner’s flick found its’ way into the bottom corner after some initial confusion in the Holcombe ranks.
A dominating opening half from the hosts saw them go into the break three goals to the good with Holcombe failing to register a shot on target.
The opening exchanges of the second half suggested a different outcome. Holcombe pressed with a greater intensity and managed to create some opportunities of their own. Early forays into the East Grinstead circle were snubbed and it took 8 minutes of second half action for their pressure to tell.
A driving run from Harry Trusler opened up the home sides’ defence and after his initial shot was well saved by Smith, Nick Bandurak was there to convert the loose ball and reduce the deficit.
Holcombe began to apply pressure all over the pitch and continued to threaten the East Grinstead circle. A great ball from Dan Fox was deflected onto the post with Smith beaten, only for Gareth Andrew to be bundled out the way on the rebound and with no decision given, the home side countered.
Smith had to be on hand to deny Andrew from close range again after a Holcombe counter attack found him in the circle with just the goalkeeper to beat.
As the game opened up, chances began to fall to both sides and Pinner had to be alert to negate the home side pulling clear again but with just 6 minutes to go in the contest, Jackson ensured that they did just that. Another penalty corner strike, mirroring his first goal in the match, sealed the victory and the points for East Grinstead as Holcombe failed to make their mark on the match away from home.
Speaking after the game, Holcombe Manager Keith Martin was disappointed with his sides’ tired performance; “It was a disappointing performance from the team; probably our worst in some considerable time. Given the absence of so many players in the past six weeks we were a bit leggy and the tiredness showed. Given results elsewhere on the day, the only good thing was qualification for the play-offs”.
Despite the loss, Holcombe secured their playoff spot yet with Surbiton and Hampstead and Westminster both 1 point behind, whether that will be in second, third or fourth position will be determined by the final two regular season games.
Pictures supplied by www.groutphotography.co.uk