L1 Miss The Chance To Clinch League Title
By Colin Pike
Surbiton Ladies missed the chance to clinch their eighth successive Vitality Women's Hockey League Premier Division title as Hampstead & Westminster ended their unbeaten record with a 2-0 win at Sugden Road on Saturday evening.
With East Grinstead losing 3-1 at Clifton Robinsons and Wimbledon losing 3-1 at Beeston, Surbiton needed a point to make absolutely sure of the title but slipped up against an organised Hampstead defence.
However, although Hampstead moved into second to become Surbiton's nearest challengers, Surbiton would need to lose at East Grinstead and at home to Wimbledon, and Hampstead would need to win both of their remaining games and overturn a seventeen worse goal difference across the two matches to deprive Surbiton of the championship.
There were mixed emotions as Maddie Long made her final appearance for Surbiton before joining the England squad for the Junior World Cup in South Africa, and will play her hockey at a University in 2022-23, whilst Robyn Collins came back from a lengthy absence due to injury.
Surbiton went into the match with confidence having beaten Hampstead 3-2 to end the visitors' opening nine match winning streak in Phase One in November and running out 4-2 winners at Paddington Recreation Ground in early March.
But it was Hampstead, chasing a place in Europe in contention with Wimbledon and East Grinstead, who took the lead in the third minute, Grace Balsdon slotting the ball past Surbiton goalkeeper, Sabbie Heesh from a penalty stroke awarded following the visitors' first penalty corner of the match.
Hampstead's defence was well organised, preventing Surbiton from creating scoring chances with Sophie Hamilton's trademark runs towards goal a particular target to defend.
Surbiton were not even able to force a single penalty corner and in the second half with the floodlights starting to take effect as the sun went down, Lucy Hyams doubled Hampstead's lead in the 47th minute from open play to leave the reigning champions' unbeaten record in jeopardy.
Long was unlucky in the 51st minute with a shot deflected over the crossbar as Surbiton tried to find a way back into the match, with Hampstead going close to adding a third goal in the 67th minute, only Steph Elliott's stick save at the right post preventing the visitors converting their fourth penalty corner of the match.
When the final whistle blew, Hampstead had ended Surbiton's unbeaten run for the second time, a 3-2 victory at Paddington Recreation Ground in February 2010 ending Surbiton's unbeaten run on the way to the South Clubs' Women's Hockey League Division One title and promotion to the Women's England Hockey League.
Following England Hockey's announcement that only one team will be relegated from the Premier Divisions and both Division One champions promoted to increase the Premier Division format to 12 teams for the 2022-23 season, Swansea were relegated following their 3-0 home defeat by the University of Birmingham.
They will be replaced by Division One North champions, the University of Nottingham, who clinched their promotion with a 3-2 win over Bowdon Hightown and Reading, who sealed their promotion from Division One South with a 1-1 draw at Sugden Road against Surbiton 2, Olivia Saligoi putting Reading 1-0 ahead in the eleventh minute, only for Hannah Denison to equalise from a penalty corner with four minutes remaining.