Saturday 13 December 2014
P1 W1 D0 L0 F2 A1
All other matches postponed due to frozen pitches.
BISHOP’S STORTFORD MEN’S 1st XI WON 2-1 VS CROSTYX.
SCORERS: LUKE TAYLOR, ALEX PALMER.
YELLOW CARDS: GREGG PETTIT (DELIBERATE USE OF THE FOOT), ALEX PALMER (PLAYING THE BALL WITH THE STICK ABOVE SHOULDER HEIGHT)
Stortford travelled to the Lee Valley Hockey & Tennis Centre at the Olympic Park for their final competitive game of 2014, having already bested their hosts in a scrappy game at Stortford back in September. With Crostyx sitting two places below Stortford and struggling for points this season, this weekend’s match was a 6-pointer with the potential to have significant impact on the season overall. Both teams were well aware of the importance of the match and perhaps in consequence, the early encounters were a little cagey as both sides sought to feel their way into the game.
Thanks to their midweek acclimatisation session, the visitors did not appear to be disadvantaged by the pitch surface; indeed, although the home team made some good use of the water-based surface to develop some flowing attacks early on, a number of other chances were thwarted by poor basics from both sides. The early chances fell to Crostyx who will be disappointed not to have converted at least one of them. An apparently innocuous long corner soon became a gilt-edged opportunity. Breaking through the attempted tackles of 2 Stortford players, the Crostyx winger played a dangerous cross from the left baseline towards the back post and a sprawling Butcher did just enough to deny the striker arriving at the back post. A penalty corner to the home side followed shortly afterwards. Having eliminated Phil Mathison’s leading run, the Crostyx striker will feel unlucky to have been denied a shooting opportunity as his foray into the circle was checked by Butcher in an apparent clash of sticks. A second corner was slipped to the left but denied as Paul Round and Butcher combined to steer the ball to safety. Having ridden their luck a little, Stortford then began to play some hockey of their own with Andy Round creating some pressure from good distribution through the left hand side. The visitors earned a string of penalty corners; the first saw a powerful flick unleashed by Alex Palmer, but unfortunately went fizzing past the left-hand post. The second saw a deflection attempt well defended by Crostyx. However, the third corner brought a breakthrough to the deadlock after 20 minutes of the match. A slightly erratic injection saw Vernon Brown adjusting his mark and taking responsibility at the top of the circle. A weaving run across the right hand side of the circle drew defenders like children around Santa Claus and as Brown played an incisive pass towards the back post, Luke Taylor made no mistake in converting the first goal of the match – a well-deserved reward after his recent excellent performances. Both sides appeared galvanised by the opening goal; Stortford were keen to extend their lead while the Crostyx seemed determined to fight back and the game became a little scrappy as both players and umpires alike struggled to grasp the nettle and exert some control over proceedings. As the clock ran down towards the dying embers of the first half, a dangerous attack saw Crostyx break down the right flank. As players flooded forward, a dangerous cross found an unmarked player deep in Stortford’s circle but the striker was denied by an onrushing Butcher determined to keep the Stortford goal intact. Having regained possession from the ensuing long corner, the visitors attacked quickly and after some delightful build up play, Alex Palmer darted into the circle and converted a splendid reverse stick finish over the ‘keeper to take Stortford into a 2-0 lead at half time.
Knowing that a determined second half performance would be needed to hold their nerve, Stortford prepared themselves for the inevitable Crostyx onslaught. It duly came as the home side opened with a high tempo offensive drive. 5 minutes into the half, Crostyx were awarded a penalty corner much to Stortford’s bemusement and it took some time before the teams settled and play resumed. The ball was injected well and the subsequent drag flick from the top of circle was returned with interest by Butcher over the Crostyx castle. As the ball was picked up 5 yards beyond the circle and with a strong numerical advantage, the ball was sprayed right and the Crostyx secondary attack was rewarded as they broke into the circle and played a well-timed ball for a deflection at the near post. As the temperature began to plummet, tempers on the pitch were beginning to rise and tensions were flaring all over the park. Perhaps in consequence of these skirmishes – although it may have been his past reputation – Gregg Pettit spent part of his return to the side in the sin bin for breaking up play with an allegedly deliberate foot; his protestations of a lack of intent fell on deaf ears. Down to 10, Stortford’s performance became even more gritty as they soaked up ever-increasing amounts of Crostyx pressure. However, for all the possession that the home side enjoyed, Stortford’s defensive unit held firm and it was rare that the Stortford circle was penetrated. With occasional breakaway forays into the Crostyx half, Stortford looked as if they might extend their lead and went agonisingly close to doing so when Alex Palmer again flashed a reverse hit stick goalwards; with the ‘keeper well-beaten, Stortford were denied only by a resolute right hand post. Having done enough already to secure the Man of the Match award, Palmer put himself on the line once more as with minutes to go in the game he sought to thwart a Crostyx overhead transfer with an ill-judged raised stick. The trip to the sin-bin was inevitable, but the potential penalty corner that might have been added to the sanction was not, and despite one or two final heart-in-mouth moments, Stortford held on for a famous victory. Afterwards, Coach Marcano reflected that it was a good way to finish 2014: “this may have not been the best hockey we have played this year but it is an important and well-earned victory that gives us some momentum to take into the Christmas break. We scored two good goals and created some opportunities and defended with our hearts and our heads today”. Stortford can take some comfort and joy into the Christmas break, knowing that they sit 6 points clear of a relegation battle but that they will have work to do in January to claw their way further up the table.