It was a closely fought contest at Holcombe Park on Saturday night as it ended honours even in the Kent Derby between Holcombe and Canterbury.
England Hockey National Premier League
Holcombe HC 1-1 Canterbury HC
Scorers: Holcombe HC: Nicola White
Canterbury HC: Grace Balsdon
Holcombe Park, Rochester
The second half of the England Hockey regular season returned to Holcombe Park on Saturday evening with a Kent Derby double-header as Canterbury made the short journey up the M2 to their local rivals.
Canterbury returned to outdoor action fresh from their Indoor Super Sixes exploits last weekend, where they secured a place in the prestigious Grand Final, only to lose out to a strong Slough performance.
Still without Great Britain medallist Shona McCallin and with Quanita Bobbs on international duty in South Africa, the hosts were the first to settle into their rhythm, creating a great chance for Captain Steph Elliott inside the opening two minutes after some strong work down the right flank.
With the cold weather proving a disruption to both sides’ pre-season preparations, quality in the final third took a while to materialise as the two Kent teams fought hard to play themselves back into the form they enjoyed in the latter stages of the first half of the season before Christmas.
Holcombe enjoyed a number of penalty corners throughout the first half as Grace Lawes in goal remained largely untroubled. By and large, Helen Fagg in the Canterbury goal remained equally quiet as the game drifted through to half-time.
The second half brought with it a greater urgency and sense of quality from both sides as the winter cobwebs were well and truly blown away. Holcombe wrestled the ascendency from their visitors in the opening exchanges and created a flurry of chances. Opportunities for Lucy Wood and Sarah Jones went begging until a penalty corner breakdown fell to Ellie Watton who saw here flick at goal strike Mel Clewlow’s body with Fagg unable to cover behind.
A penalty stroke was awarded and Nicola White stepped up to dispatch the ball low into the bottom corner to give the hosts the lead their pressure had deserved.
Canterbury searched for an equaliser that would earn them a valuable point and were rewarded with just 8 minutes remaining. A Lucy Wood challenge inside the final third was upgraded to a penalty corner and Grace Balsdon fired a low flick under Lawes in the Holcombe goal to restore parity.
With Wood sin-binned for the challenge that led to the corner, a frantic final few minutes ensued but with neither side able to capitalise on the increasing desperation for a winner, the spoils were shared on a cold evening in Rochester.
Speaking after the game, Holcombe Captain Steph Elliott was largely pleased with her sides’ performance; “We executed our game plan well. Our out-letting and leading was really promising, we just struggled to convert in the final third. Overall it was a very disappointing result from our perspective as we wanted to close the gap on second place but it’s a long way to go and this is a promising return.”
Next week, Holcombe travel to East Grinstead in a crucial battle for points at the top end of the table. Canterbury, now sitting in 7th place, face a daunting trip to Sugden Road to face high-flying and unbeaten leaders Surbiton.
England Hockey Men’s National Premier League
Holcombe HC 0-0 Canterbury HC
Holcombe Park, Rochester
The second half of the Kent Derby double-header saw Canterbury Men take the field against Holcombe. With the two sides enjoying vastly contrasting Indoor campaigns, the return to outdoor hockey saw an intriguing context added to the Kent sides’ differing forms in the outdoor campaign so far.
A stricken Holcombe side were able to field just thirteen players for the contest as they looked to cover the losses of some key players. Iain Lewers and Barry Middleton were away in the Hockey India League, David Ames and Sam Ward, fresh from their Olympic exploits in the summer, were injured. Jonty Robinson was away on international duty with South Africa and James Steadman was also carrying an injury that ruled him out of the contest.
Debuts were subsequently awarded to James Davies and Ian Harvey who stepped up from Holcombe’s second team for their first experiences of National Premier League Hockey.
The visitors welcomed the return of talismanic Scotsman Wei Adams, who enjoyed a successful first half of the season playing in Germany. His Premier League experience will be invaluable for the Polo Farm side as they look to mount another escape in the second half of the season from the relegation places.
A lacklustre first half brought little in the way of clear cut chances for the two sides. Endeavour was never at fault however as an absence of real quality in the final third of the field proved to be the undoing of both squads. An uneventful first period ended goalless as the two outfits looked to play themselves back into form after a disrupted pre-season.
The second half, as proved to be the case in the preceding game, started with a greater intensity and sense of purpose. Both outfits began to implement their patterns of play to greater effect but it was the home side that created the better of the chances. 3 penalty corners were well saved by Diccon Stubbings in the Canterbury goal as Rob Field was to be continually denied.
George Pinner was called into action late in the game to make a smart save however Holcombe, despite playing with just two substitutes, were left to rue the better of the chances as an uneventful game in front of goal ended all-square.
Speaking after the game, Holcombe’s Tom O’Keeffe said; “Both of us had chances but, ultimately, neither were able to execute in front of goal. It was pleasing to see such disciplined defence across the whole squad and the team effort was fantastic, especially from the two debutants who made vital contributions. We’re disappointed to not come away with three points but we’ll take the positives from this game and roll into the next fixture with confidence.”
With Wimbledon winning away at Beeston, Holcombe surrendered first place in the National Premier League but have an immediate chance to take it back as they travel to the two-time reigning Champions next weekend. The point for Canterbury leaves them 4 clear of bottom-placed Loughborough Students as they welcome an in-form Surbiton side to Polo Farm next weekend.
Image Credit: Steve Grout