L1 Beat The University of Birmingham 5-0
By Colin Pike
Surbiton Ladies ensured that they will finish 2022 on top of the Vitality Women's Hockey League Premier Division with a 5-0 home win over the University of Birmingham on Saturday.
With one game remaining before the winter break, at home to Clifton Robinsons next Saturday, Surbiton maintained their five point lead over second placed Wimbledon, who won 1-0 at home to East Grinstead.
Birmingham dropped to tenth due to Reading winning 2-1 at Buckingham and the University of Nottingham drawing 3-3 at home to Holcombe.
Hampstead & Westminster took advantage of East Grinstead's defeat to move into third thanks to their 5-1 victory over Clifton Robinsons, who stay sixth after seventh placed Loughborough Students lost 2-1 at home to Beeston to remain two points behind Clifton.
Surbiton dominated possession in the first quarter at Sugden Road with Darcy Bourne giving Birmingham a second minute scare with a shot past the left post. Birmingham conceded two penalty corners in the first eight minutes but Giselle Ansley's shot from the second whistled past the right post to the visitors' relief.
The pressure mounted on Birmingham as Robyn Collins hit the right sideboard before the breakthrough came in the 16th minute, Hannah Martin rifling the ball into the net against her former club.
Surbiton and in particular, Sophie Hamilton then hit a purple patch with Birmingham conceding four goals between the 20th and 28th minutes.
Hamilton smacked the ball into the net in the 20th minute and then completed a speedy hat-trick with goals in the 25th and 26th minutes. With Birmingham shell shocked, Meg Dowthwaite added a fifth goal from close range in the 28th minute as the visitors seemed unable to cope with the wave of Surbiton attacks.
But having ripped the Birmingham defence to shreds, Surbiton were unable to add further goals, mainly thanks to Evie Wood in the Birmingham goal, performing heroics including an excellent double save in the final minute from Martin and Izzy Petter.
Darcy Bourne had also been denied by Wood, Izzy Shelley completing the clearance and after yet another save by Wood, Martha Le Huray put the rebound wide of the right post towards the end of the first half.
Birmingham had Lily Walker to thank for stopping Petter in her tracks and for some general defensive work as Surbiton continually set up attacking moves by regaining possession in the Birmingham 23.
Petter fired past the right post after good approach work by Amy Costello with Hamilton forcing another save and Holly Payne looking dangerous as Surbiton continued to threaten.
Wood performed further heroics from both Ansley and Costello as Surbiton failed to convert any of their five penalty corners. Wood saved from Martin twice in the fourth quarter and towards the end of the match, Birmingham had a period where they briefly had the potential to force Surbiton to concede their first home goal of the season, but Sabbie Heesh and the Surbiton defence added another clean sheet to their collection in a season which has seen Surbiton concede just four goals in ten games.
Clifton Robinsons visit Sugden Road next Saturday when as it's the final day of the first half of the season, all the games push back at 2 pm. The Bristol club will be looking anxiously at the result at Sonning Lane, where Loughborough Students, the only team which can overtake Clifton to finish 2022 in sixth place, play Reading.
With Clifton going into the final round of matches with a nine goal better goal difference, a draw is virtually certain to guarantee Clifton's place in the Top Six for the second successive season, but a Clifton defeat coupled by a Loughborough win would see the Students snatch the sixth place by a point.