England Hockey Men’s Tier 2 Championship Final
Blackheath & Elthamians HC 2-1 East London HC
Scorers: BEHC: James Morrison, Chris Harden
ELHC: Tom Sword
Lee Valley Hockey & Tennis Centre
Following contrasting regular seasons for this year’s finalist, the Tier 2 Championship Final was set to be a corker. With history waiting to be made for the winning team [the first ever side to win the tournament], preparations couldn’t have been different.
East London went into the game following a morale-boosting season, under the guidance of Asif Rais and Ollie Jones, where they finished top of their division, having lost just three games all year.
Blackheath & Elthamians (BEHC), however, struggled to replicate the excellent form of last season under the tutelage of new head coach Will Nurse. At the halfway point of the season and entering the winter break, BEHC found themselves in the precarious position sitting just outside of the relegation zone. Changes were needed, Coach Nurse stepped down from his position, and a new leader emerged in the guise of Captain Chris Harden. The move had the desired effect, BEHC saw their fortunes turnaround, and the route to the final began.
As the mercury reached 28’c on pitchside at the Lee Valley Hockey & Tennis Centre, it was the side from South London that started the quickest, as East London were forced deep into their half from the first phase of the game.
Threatening from the first attack, Dave Lawrence’s cross flashed across the face of the East London goal, only to just drift past the diving James Morrison on the far post.
As the East London crowd grew in number and voice, they gave their side the boost that was needed. Some tenacious defending from the Essex side kept chances to a premium, a later penalty corner for BEHC was brilliantly cleared off the line by Mark Prince, only for Blackheath forward Joe Allen to see his rebound effort just miss the near post.
East London was quick on the counter-attack, forcing BEHC shot stopper James Craigmyle to keep the side from Kent in the game.
A rapid clearance from Ben Stafford to set up the next attack for Blackheath & Elthamians, in what was becoming a very open start to the game. You attack, we attack trade-offs between the two London sides. James Morrison opens the scoring, to giving BEHC the lead in the fourth minute. After a strong run through the right of Midfield, and a smart interchange with Josh Self, Morrison struck home from a tight angle to beat Freddie Goddard in the East London goal. 1-0 to BEHC.
The end to end play continued, and with both sides trading blows, it was time for the defensive units to stand firm. With some smart play inside the area, it was East London who struck next. BEHC’s Goal Keeper James Craigmyle could only parry the ball from a fierce shot from John Lyness. Thomas Sword was first to react calmly shooting beyond the helpless Blackheath defence to the delight of the East London crowd.
A driving run from James Morrison eliminated four East London defenders, before finding a marauding Ben Wyatt who continued the run along the baseline. Pulling the ball back to Captain Chris Harden, with the goalkeeper committed, Harden scrambled home at the near post to put the Southern Counties side back in front halfway through the second half.
Moments later Blackheath had another chance to extend their lead when Harry Finster of East London was shown a Green Card and a penalty corner awarded for a poor tackle inside the 23metre zone. Three consecutive corners later, ELHC cleared their lines and created an attack of their own.
Just 10 minutes later, as the strong East London crowd were driving their team forward, East London was given a massive boost as the Blackheath captain was showed a Yellow card for a deliberate breakdown in play.
The Yellow card advantage for ELHC was short-lived. As the temperatures soared, on the hottest Early May Bank Holiday in 30 years, East London’s discipline started to wain with two yellow cards shown in as many minutes, killing off any chances of turning things around.
Speaking after the final whistle East London Captain Joe Green was quick to praise the crowd and his team, “It was a fantastic spectacle if nothing else, the crowd was unbelievable. The support, the umpiring, the whole day were all amazing. If you said to us at the start of the season that we would win our league and get to the national final, we would have never expected it. To get to this stage is something that we can all be immensely proud of”.
Blackheath & Elthamians retained the trophy they won last year, albeit under the guise of the EH Trophy.
After lifting the, now Tier 2 Championship, trophy, Captain Chris Harden said “It was a good side we played against today, so I’m delighted with the result. The season didn’t go as planned but we have been on a good run since Christmas, we are playing a good style of hockey and its great to be back on top”.