M1 Battle Into ABN AMRO EHL Semi-Finals
By Colin Pike
Surbiton Men beat Belgian club KHC Dragons 1-0 at the Wagener Stadium in Amsterdam on Friday to reach the semi-finals for the first time.
Surbiton are the first team to reach the EHL semi-finals since Wimbledon in 2017, who lost 8-0 to Oranje-Rood in the semi-finals and then ironically finished fourth after a 3-1 loss to KHC Dragons.
Surbiton will be hoping to go further when they meet Rot-Weiss Köln of Germany in the second semi-final at 1300 BST on Sunday. Rot-Weiss beat Kampong of the Netherlands 2-1 on Friday night.
The first semi-final will be between Club Campo De Madrid of Spain and HC Bloemendaal of the Netherlands at 1500 BST on Saturday.
The game against Dragons was a rematch of the EHL Ranking Cup KO16 tie in Brasschat in October which went to a shootout after a 1-1 draw and the April encounter was just as tight.
Luke Taylor's 39th minute penalty corner was the difference with Dragons just failing to create a dêja-vu moment with four minutes remaining as Henri Raes' penalty corner conversion was ruled out due to the ball hitting Surbiton's number one runner too high.
The first quarter set the scene for the tight affair with the period bookended by two excellent saves, Loic van Doren tested as Tim Nurse and David Goodfield were threatening in the circle and Ore Ogunlana saving from Lucas Martinez seconds before the first interval.
Dragons' Tim Luyten hit the crossbar in the 21st minute with the closest that either side had come to opening the scoring and Surbiton were denied the opportunity to take a late second quarter lead when a penalty corner award was reversed after a Dragons video referral.
The breakthrough finally came in the 39th minute when Surbiton were finally awarded a penalty corner. Luke Taylor's drag-flick found the backboard with the ball squeezing inside the right post to put Surbiton 1-0 ahead.
Surbiton were denied another penalty corner in the 43rd minute following a second successful Dragons video referral and a minute later, they had Jamie Golden to thank for an outstanding goal-line stop to preserve Surbiton's fragile lead.
In the fourth quarter, Nurse and Williams combined to force another save from van Doren.
Dragons thought they had equalised in the 56th minute when Raes put away a rebound into the roof of the net after Ogunlana saved from Felix Denayer, but Surbiton's video referral saw the goal disallowed as the ball hit Surbiton's number one runner dangerously high before the ball was kicked away by Ogunlana. Seconds before, Ogunlana had made a brilliant save to his right before the second award was made.
Dragons elected to replace their goalkeeper with an eleventh outfield player and Rob Farrington will be wondering how he missed a potential insurance goal in the penultimate minute by sending the ball wide of the right post.
But Surbiton held on for the win, a final clearance down the left wing ensuring that they made history by reaching the last four.