25 March 2017 Investec Women’s Hockey League Premier Division
SURBITON 4–3 CLIFTON ROBINSONS
Scorers: Ansley 43-PC, 62-PC; Middleton 58-PC, 68-F
Squad: Bray (GK); King, Ansley, Haycroft (Capt.), Twigg, Hunter, Martin, Webb, Atkinson, Middleton, Page. Subs: Evans (8″), Robinson (13″), Sharp (14″), Chilton (20″), Collins (24″).
Umpires: David Howell and Emma Shelbourn
Match Official: Victoria Truesdale
Surbiton Ladies had to dig deep before ending the Investec Women’s Hockey League Premier Division regular season with a thrilling 4-3 win over Clifton Robinsons.
Clifton needed to win to have any chance of snatching a playoff place, but a win would have been in vain as the University of Birmingham won 2-1 at Canterbury to finish fourth. East Grinstead won 4-1 at Bowdon Hightown to clinch third place.
Surbiton will meet the University of Birmingham and Holcombe will take on East Grinstead in the Championship semi-finals at Lee Valley on 22 April.
On a sunny day at Sugden Road, Surbiton began strongly, Sarah Page forcing an early save from Clifton goalkeeper Sarah Ellis after an attacking run by Julia King. Ellis came to Clfiton’s rescue in the sixth minute, saving from Giselle Ansley and Page from the hosts’ first penalty corner of the match.
Clifton took the lead in the eleventh minute, Hannah Coulson’s initial shot being saved before Joie Leigh eventually put the ball away from the visitors’ first penalty corner.
Surbiton responded with wave after wave of attack but tight marking by the Clifton defence and vital saves by Ellis from Olivia Chilton and another Ansley penalty corner shot kept the visitors’ lead intact.
Surbiton suffered a sucker punch just before half time as Megan Crowson attacked before unleashing a stunning shot past home goalkeeper Louisa Bray to double Clifton’s lead and leave the reigning champions trailing 2-0 for the second time this season.
Surbiton’s recovery started eight minutes into the second half, Ansley finding the backboard from her side’s third penalty corner to reduce Clifton’s lead to 2-1.
With twelve minutes remaining, Surbiton still trailed 2-1, but Clifton were reduced to eight players as Alex Danson and former Surbiton player Kate Holmes were banished to the sin-bin after seeing green, followed by another former Surbiton player, Hannah Coulson returning to the sin-bin after seeing yellow, having already seen green in the 51st minute.
During this mayhem, Surbiton found an equaliser, Beckie Middleton’s penalty corner deflection beating Ellis in the 58th minute, to bring the scores level at 2-2 and give Clifton’s playoff hopes a jolt.
That jolt became more severe with eight minutes remaining, Ansley finding the backboard a second time to give Surbiton the lead for the first time in the match and effectively get Surbiton out of jail.
The match took another twist four minutes later, captain Aileen Davis giving Clifton’s faint hopes a boost with a penalty corner conversion as Surbiton failed to defend the set piece for the second time in the match.
With two minutes remaining the match was won by Middleton’s stunning deflection from Twigg’s pass to finally end Clifton’s hopes of reaching Lee Valley via the league playoffs.
Ansley finished as the Premier Division’s leading goalscorer with fifteen goals, one ahead of runner-up, Erica Sanders of the University of Birmingham.
Surbiton finished nine points ahead of second placed Holcombe, the Kent club drawing 1-1 with Leicester. At the other end of the table, Reading ended their eight year run in the top flight with a 1-0 win at Slough to secure their only victory of the season.
Bowdon Hightown now know that they will face local rivals Brooklands Poynton, Buckingham and Wimbledon in the Promotion Tournament with the top two teams playing in the 2017-18 Premier Division.
Northampton Saints, Belper and Bristol Firebrands will all play regional league hockey next season after suffering automatic relegation whilst Exe, Timperley and West Herts will play each other over three weekends with the top team staying in the IWHL and the bottom two teams playing in their regional leagues next season.
Bedford (East), Cannock (Midlands), Fylde (North), Barnes (South) and Team Bath Buccaneers (West) will all play national league hockey next season after winning their regional leagues.