It was a frustrating weekend for Holcombe as both sides dropped points in the last of the first round of games in the National premier League.
England Hockey Women’s National Premier League
Leicester HC 1-1 Holcombe HC
Scorers: Leicester HC: Katie Long
Holcombe HC: Dirkie Chamberlain
Leicester Grammar School, Leicester
Holcombe made the long trip north on Saturday following an impressive win at home last weekend against Slough.
Hosts Leicester had claimed 7 points from their opening 8 games as they sat perilously close the relegation playoffs in a tight bottom half of the table.
With such a positive display of attacking hockey last weekend, Holcombe looked to start on the front foot once more and were rewarded inside the opening five minutes, albeit through rather fortuitous circumstances.
A smart move down the left-hand side saw Ellie Watton find Dirkie Chamberlain in the Leicester circle. After rolling her defender, Chamberlain fired in a reverse-stick cross which cannoned into the stick of Kathryn Lane before looping over the helpless Caitlin Jeffries in goal to give the Kent side the early lead.
With the goal credited to Chamberlain, Holcombe continued to push forward in search of a second with the home side content to absorb pressure before looking to strike on the counter-attack.
Mid-way through the half, Leicester’s tactics almost reaped reward as Katie Long picked the ball up on her own 25-yard line. A burst of pace across the pitch saw her eliminate three Holcombe defenders before firing a warning shot at Rose Thomas’ goal.
The visitors continued to look settled in possession however and a flowing move down the right-hand side towards the end of the half threatened to double their advantage.
A fine interchange down the right between Sarah Jones and Ellie Watton released Dirkie Chamberlain into the shoulder of the circle. With Liné Milan making ground towards the back post, Chamberlain’s cross was unable to reach her as Jeffries cleared comfortably in the Leicester goal.
After going into the break in front, Leigh Maasdorp’s side continued to create chances in front of goal but were found wanting in the final third as Leicester remained in the contest.
With just ten minutes to play, the home side finally found their breakthrough. A long ball through the Holcombe press from Kathryn Lane found the dangerous Katie Long just inside the Holcombe half.
After beating her defender, Lane ran at the Holcombe defence and a neat return pass saw her through on Rose Thomas before a delicate lift over the Welsh Goalkeeper into the bottom corner restored parity.
With time running down, a late barrage of penalty corners for the visitors came to nothing as Holcombe left the Midlands with their fifth draw from their opening nine games that sees them slip out of the playoff spots to fifth.
Next weekend, Holcombe close out their first half of the season at home to Clifton Robinson’s on Saturday at 2pm.
England Hockey Men’s National Premier League
Hampstead and Westminster HC 3-2 Holcombe HC
Scorers: Hampstead and Westminster HC: Matt Guise-Brown x2, Josh Kelly
Holcombe HC: Dan Edwards, Richard Lane
Paddington Recreation Ground, Westminster
Separated by just a point, Holcombe travelled to in-form Hampstead and Westminster on Sunday afternoon in the final fame of the first round of matches in the National Premier League.
The London club had enjoyed a strong run of results over recent weeks, bringing themselves back into play-off contention in the final weeks before the Christmas break.
Holcombe were dealt a blow mid-week with talismanic Great Britain midfielder David Ames side-lined with a potential long-term injury, seeing Ekham Bachu return to the side for his second Premier League appearance.
In a clear day in the heart of London, it was the hosts that dictated the opening phases of play, immediately settling into a back 5 to distribute the ball comfortably from the back.
With Holcombe content to sit deep and allow their opponents possession around the half-way line, they kept Hampstead at arms’ length with George Pinner in the Holcombe remaining untroubled throughout.
No penalty corners and no shots on target led to a tactical and cautious opening twenty minutes from both sides until the home side managed to finally un-pick the stubborn Holcombe defence.
Richard Smith’s cross found the stick of the predatory Josh Kelly who deflected high into the Holcombe net for 1-0.
Just three minutes later however and Holcombe responded in kind.
Nick Banduraks’ through ball found Barry Middleton who had broken through the Hampstead back line. With just the goal keeper to beat, Middleton drew his man before unselfishly squaring to teenager Dan Edwards for his second goal in as many games.
With the game threatening to burst open, a reserved final ten minutes saw both sides head into the break content with the score at 1-1.
After some choice words from Player-Coach Kwan Browne at half-time, the home side came out firing and immediately won a penalty corner from which South African international Matt Guise-Brown despatched low to George Pinners’ right to put the London club back into the lead.
As the half progressed, the intensity increased as both sides looked for a decisive fourth goal. Just ten minutes after Hampstead had got themselves in front however, a moment of brilliance from the Holcombe Captain restored parity.
Picking the ball up inside the Hampstead half, Richard Lane beat three Hampstead midfielders before riding a tough challenge from Richard Smith. After somehow finding a way through the home sides’ defensive line, Lane delicately lifted the ball over the on-rushing goalkeeper to bring Holcombe level with Smith sent to the sin-bin in a potentially game-changing moment of class from the talismanic midfielder.
Now with a man advantage, Holcombe pushed forward in search of a third goal but the home sides’ defence held firm as they looked to wrestle back the momentum going into the final quarter of this tightly contested game.
With just under fifteen minutes to play, another soft penalty corner conceded by Holcombe gave Guise-Brown the opportunity for his second of the game which he duly took, firing the ball low to Pinners’ right once more.
With time running out, Hampstead were indebted to Chris Cargo’s goal-line clearance from a penalty corner as they held on to claim the three points that saw them leapfrog their visitors into third place.
Next week, Holcombe close out the first half of the season with a home tie against in-form Reading. With just goal-difference separating the two sides, Holcombe will be without Great Britain Internationals George Pinner, Barry Middleton and David Ames as they look to claim a valuable three points before heading into the Indoor season.
Image Credit: Lawrence King