L1 Qualify For League Finals Semi-Finals
By Colin Pike
Surbiton Ladies qualified, together with East Grinstead from Pool A of the Vitality Women's Hockey League Premier Division League Finals after both teams won 3-1: Surbiton away to Beeston and East Grinstead at home to the University of Birmingham on Saturday afternoon.
Surbiton had won on all six previous league visits to Nottingham Hockey Centre, but the game was in the balance at half time after a goalless first half. Even though Surbiton opened the scoring very early in the third quarter, Beeston fought back to level with ten minutes remaining before Surbiton scored twice in the last three minutes to clinch the victory and qualification.
Play started under overcast skies, with Hannah Martin forcing a save from Steph Tirrell in the third minute and Steph Elliott firing a shot into Beeston's left sideboard.
Beeston blocked Amy Costello's shot from Surbiton's first penalty corner in the sixth minute and seven minutes later a well worked routine saw the ball go past the right post.
Surbiton dominated the goalscoring chances with Sophie Hamilton unlucky at the left post in the first quarter.
Beeston survived a third penalty corner in the 22nd minute when Ansley and Costello both had shots on goal before the hosts won a free hit.
Surbiton attacked down both wings with Leah Wilkinson spinning round whilst in possession on the left as the visitors tried to find another way to unlock the home defence.
As the second quarter progressed, the skies darkened and right on cue at half time, the heavens opened for persistent rain to fall until the end of the third quarter.
Surbiton started the second half in search of a quick breakthrough and after Alice Sharp had a shot saved by Tirrell after just 18 seconds, Izzy Petter ran into the circle and under pressure from Tirrell and Bourne goal-hanging, rotated and found the backboard after just 42 seconds to open the scoring and "rain" supreme.
It was also the first time in three meetings against the Nottingham club this season that Beeston had not scored the opening goal.
Ansley had another shot blocked from Surbiton's fourth penalty corner in the 43rd minute and Beeston had a chance for a breakaway attack, but they couldn't take full advantage as Surbiton managed to recover in defence.
Early in the fourth quarter, Surbiton's Martin and Beeston's Hannah Grieve clashed with Martin tripping over a prostrate Grieve.
As at Clifton Robinsons, a month earlier, Surbiton were made to pay for not scoring a second goal when Sophie Robinson managed to find the equaliser from just wide of the right post and bring Beeston level at 1-1 with ten minutes remaining.
Giselle Ansley had scored the winning goal in that match in the 66th minute and history almost repeated itself as she converted Surbiton's sixth penalty corner in the 67th minute to put Surbiton 2-1 ahead in the East Midlands.
But on this occasion, it was not destined to be the winning goal as Darcy Bourne dispossessed Madeline Pendle, ran into the circle from the left and smashed the ball into the far sideboard to seal Surbiton's second 3-1 victory at Nottingham Hockey Centre with Ansley and Bourne scoring in both games, Costello having scored instead of Petter back in November.
Beeston will be disappointed to have lost their opening two games in the League Finals, but they have something to build on for the 2023-24 season.
The full game can be seen again via Bee TV's You Tube Channel here
East Grinstead, who visit Sugden Road next Saturday (push back 12 noon), had Sophie Bray's brace to thank for helping them to their 3-1 win over the University of Birmingham. Courtney Hansford also scored for the West Sussex club with Millie Giglio scoring Birmingham's consolation goal.
In Pool B, it's all to play for with the University of Nottingham the only team eliminated. Clifton Robinsons followed up their 2-1 victory at Hampstead & Westminster with a 1-1 draw at home to Wimbledon, Olivia Chilton putting Wimbledon ahead before Livvy Hoskins levelled in the final minute to force a shootout. Anna Toman gave Wimbledon a 1-0 lead in the shootout but Amy Burton, Abi Porter and Clemmie Houlden earned the 3-1 win for Clifton and an extra point to put them on five points.
Hampstead & Westminster kept their qualification hopes alive with a 7-1 win over the University of Nottingham. Anna O'Flanagan's hat-trick and Lily Owsley's brace, together with goals from Lauren and Hayley Turner kept the London club in contention after Jordan Homann had scored in the 12th minute.
Hampstead & Westminster visit Wimbledon next Saturday.
In the relegation playoffs, with one match remaining, Loughborough Students are on 20 points, Reading on 19 and Holcombe on 18.
Holcombe beat Loughborough Students 2-1, Lorna Mackenzie scoring in the second minute before Sofia Viarengo and Hattie Jones scored for Holcombe.
Reading beat already relegated Buckingham 3-1, Mia Moore, Star Horlock and Phoebe Nixon scoring for the Berkshire club. Madeleine Newlyn's goal for Buckingham came with ten minutes to play.
Isca & University of Exeter will play in the Premier Division for the first time next season after beating Canterbury 9-0 on Saturday to open up a nine point lead over Barnes with just two games remaining.
In Division One North, the promotion place is up for grabs with Bowdon and Stourport locked on 40 points with Bowdon having a one better goal difference.