Holcombe Women enjoyed consecutive wins in a crucial double-header over the weekend. A home win against Bowdon Hightown was followed by a dramatic win away at East Grinstead to claim a valuable 3 points for the Kent side.
England Hockey Women’s National Premier League
Holcombe HC 1-0 Bowdon Hightown HC
Scorers: Holcombe HC: Quanita Bobbs
Bowdon Hightown HC:
Holcombe Park, Rochester
Saturday afternoon saw Holcombe welcome Bowdon Hightown to Holcombe Park in Rochester. The visitors made the long journey south from Manchester in hope of returning with just their second win of the season.
After returning just 2 points away from home this campaign, the Manchester outfit have struggled on the road but with finding themselves in a precarious position at the wrong end of the table, Kevin Johnson’s side were well aware of the threat they posed in a desperate hunt for points.
Fresh from last weekend’s 4-2 win on the road at Clifton Robinson’s, Holcombe welcomed youngster Rebecca Titmuss back into the side in place of fellow junior Emily Beeney, whilst playing without Ellie Watton and Erin Hunter who were warm weather training with Great Britain and South Africa respectively and Emily Maguire was unavailable for selection.
At a cold and windy Holcombe Park, the home side immediately settled into their rhythm, battening down the hatches at the back and forcing their counterparts deep into their own territory. The intensity and attacking prowess from Holcombe proved far too great for Bowdon in the opening exchanges and a number of chances went begging until the home side earned a penalty corner in the 21st minute.
Quanita Bobbs despatched a flick low to the goalkeepers’ right to convert the dominance of the Kent side. Once assured, the home side maintained possession well, moving the ball around the pitch with an assured confidence.
As time whittled down at the end of the first half, Bowdon earned themselves a penalty corner after a well worked move on the break. With the initial phase breaking down, Holcombe launched a counter attack of their own down the right hand side.
A flowing move that ran the length of the field ended with a despairing dive from Bobbs at the back post but she was unable to provide the finishing touch to satisfy an increasingly excitable crowd.
With the sides level at the break, Holcombe were left with a fragile lead after extended periods of dominance throughout the first period.
The second half saw the visitor’s muscle their way into the contest with a more structured defensive performance. With Grace Lawes remaining largely untroubled in the Holcombe goal, the home side were left to rue missed opportunities as the fluidity and connections in attack from the first half were lacking in the second.
As the half wore on, Bowdon’s confidence grew and the final minutes became a tense affair. Chances remained at a premium at both ends of the field and Holcombe were indebted to their back line in the final phases of the game to keep the Manchester outfit at arms’ length and secure the points.
England Hockey Women’s National Premier League
East Grinstead HC 2-3 Holcombe HC
Scorers: East Grinstead HC: Emma Lee-Smith, Lucy Bairner
Holcombe HC: Quanita Bobbs, Leah Wilkinson, Lucy Wood
Saint Hill, East Grinstead
With Holcombe’s fixture at East Grinstead postponed a fortnight ago due to a snow-covered pitch, the two finally got to lock horns on Sunday afternoon.
In a much anticipated clash, the hosts went into the weekend in second place with Holcombe just 1 point behind in third. With the previous day’s results going in favour of the visiting side, the two playoff hopefuls were well aware of the value of the three points on offer at Saint Hill.
East Grinstead came into the game after losing the previous day to fellow playoff-rivals, the University of Birmingham. Locking horns with their closest rivals in the league table on Sunday therefore brought with it an added pressure to an already crucial game in the race for the playoffs.
The opening exchanges were an intense affair and with the home side content to sit deep, Holcombe enjoyed the majority of the territory that accompanied the press. Moving the ball around well, Holcombe made some promising ventures deep into the East Grinstead half but were unable to create any clear-cut opportunities in front of goal.
11 minutes in, East Grinstead enjoyed a counter attack that resulted in their first penalty corner of the match. A viciously struck hit from Emma Lee-Smith found the bottom right corner to put the hosts ahead against the run of play.
With a new-found confidence, East Grinstead began to close down with a far greater intensity but Holcombe immediately settled back into their patterns of play and forced their opponents deeper into their own half. With just over 5 minutes left to play in the opening period, Holcombe had their reward.
After Sarah Jones was fouled on the edge of the East Grinstead circle, a well worked move from Steph Elliott and Emma Trunks found Quanita Bobbs on the edge of the circle. As the ball dropped on her reverse-stick, Bobbs unleashed a powerful strike into the bottom corner for her second of the weekend and restore parity to send the two sides into the break on level terms.
With so much riding on the game, the second half became an increasingly tense affair. Holcombe continued to enjoy the majority of possession and territory but the East Grinstead defence held firm to deny any clear-cut opportunities.
With just 10 minutes to go, the home side scored a crucial goal on the break to regain the lead. A swift counter attack down the right-hand side saw the ball pulled back from the baseline into the Holcombe circle. With Aurora Mears in the Holcombe goal committed, the ball squirmed through to Lucy Bairner who threw herself forward to convert from close range.
East Grinstead, having taken the lead for the second time in the contest, sat deep again in their own half, inviting pressure on their defensive circle. Holcombe duly obliged and looked to carve out an opportunity in front of goal to salvage the points.
With 4 minutes remaining and still trailing, Kevin Johnson removed Mears from goal in favour of an extra outfield player, with Emma Trunks donning the responsibilities of a ‘kicking-back’. His decision was almost immediately rewarded with Sarah Jones breaking through in the circle, only to have her shot well saved.
From the resulting play, Leah Wilkinson’s ball into the circle struck a defensive foot, earning an invaluable penalty corner with just over 2 minutes to play. A well worked move saw Vice-Captain Wilkinson convert to spark dramatic scenes as celebrations were accompanied by a frantic return of Mears to the goal, Leigh Maasdorp to the side-line and the kicking-back bib to the bench before the restart of play.
With just over a minute to play, a turnover in the East Grinstead midfield led to Bobbs playing through Captain Steph Elliott just inside the opposing half. Her through ball set Lucy Wood free of the trailing home defence with just the goalkeeper to beat. In an incredible turnaround, her calm finish from the right shoulder of the circle gave Holcombe the points from an improbable position just 4 minutes earlier.
Speaking after a remarkable game at Saint Hill, Quanita Bobbs said; “We knew coming into the game the importance of us getting 3 points away at East Grinstead. I felt it was a good competitive game between two top sides. With them being up 2-1 in the last 5 minutes, the pressure was on us to score, however we still managed to control the game and play our brand of hockey and in the end it paid off!”
Speaking after both of the weekends’ fixtures, Holcombe Captain Steph Elliott was proud of her team’s efforts; “We came into the weekend in a tough position in terms of missing players and wanting to get to 2nd place in the league. I’m really proud of the girls; they gave their all in both games and we deserved the wins. We fought until the last whistle and were clinical when it mattered most.”
The win sees Holcombe move 5 points clear of third, where 3 teams are currently vying for two remaining playoff-places with just goal difference to separate them. The momentum from two wins this weekend will be crucial towards securing the all-important playoff position ahead of the post-season in April.
Image Credit: Grout Photography and Smif Sports