Week 4 Featured Match Review: Olton & WW 0-6 Clifton

Clifton HC Women

A first half hat-trick from Liz Sinton gave Clifton their third win in four games as they brushed aside Olton and West Warwicks and moved into second place in the Investec Women’s Premier League.

Sinton scored in the 18th and 19th minutes and then added her third from a penalty corner just before half time as Steve Rixon’s side ran riot in the first half. It was 5-0 at the break and given their previous two games, (losing 12-0 and 12-1 to Reading and Surbiton,) Olton must have feared the worst. Despite this, a dogged second half display and some outstanding goalkeeping from Fran Taylor restricted the visitors to just one second half goal.

The pattern of the game was set very early on. Olton sat deep hoping to stifle their opponents and deny them space, whilst Clifton’s fluid movement up front and quick ball pace threatened to break down the host’s resistance.

Sinton almost opened the scoring on 10 minutes, latching on to a through ball from Kate Holmes, but Taylor spread herself well and made the block. Clifton didn’t have to wait too much longer to get their lead, however. After a penalty corner was cleared, the resultant long corner was played back in. Jordan’s initial deflection was saved by the goalkeeper but Sinton was on hand to prod home the rebound.

A minute later Sinton doubled hers and Clifton’s tally with a lovely finish from a well-worked penalty corner. With a lead established, Steve Rixon’s side started to impose themselves more and more on the game. On 23 minutes they scored their third. Jo Leigh showed lovely skills on the right and broke into the D, her shot from an angle was saved, but she collected the rebound and slipped the ball back to Jo Carter who slotted a precise finish into the bottom left corner to make it 3-0.

Olton saw off a couple of penalty corner chances, but it seemed almost inevitable that Clifton would strike again. With seven minutes left in the half, they did: It was a splendid team goal started by Leigh bursting forwards down the right. She showed good vision to pick out Helena Faust in the D, Faust played a perfect first-time pass to Els Mansell who promptly despatched the ball past the on-rushing goalkeeper with a minimum of fuss. It was 5-0 just on the stroke of half time as Zoe Leach zigzagged into the D at a penalty corner and found Sinton at the far post who touched home for her hat-trick.

Clifton picked up where they left off after the break. Holmes tested Taylor’s reflexes with a penalty corner that goalkeeper did well to get a glove to and then Jane Wackett cleared off the line from the same player.

Olton started to creep back into the game and from a sweeping counterattack Clare McNulty brought a good block out of Caitlin Jeffries. Minutes later, McNulty turned provider and played in Kerry Thompson-Moore who was clean through, but again, Jeffries was up to the task and saved well.

Clifton stepped up a gear and re-asserted their authority on the game. Holmes found Aileen Davis from a penalty corner, but not for the first time, Taylor smothered the chance.

With six minutes left, Clifton finally broke Olton’s second half resistance. Carter got along the baseline on the right and cut the ball back to Leigh who slapped the ball into the net from near the penalty spot.

Clifton took the points from a comfortable win, but having led 5-0 at half-time, Steve Rixon’s side will be disappointed not to have added to their goal difference. For Olton, the second half offers them a lot of encouragement, in particular the form of goalkeeper Taylor, who was exceptional. Olton Coach Harry Jones told England Hockey: “I think we started really well. The girls were set clear objectives and for the first 15 minutes we were on par with what we needed to do. I think the difficulty came when we started to get tired. That’s the problem we have at the moment, our fitness levels and the fact we don’t have a big bench. We’re working on improving the fitness but at the moment that’s what’s letting us down.”

Steve Rixon, Clifton coach, was understandably very upbeat having seen his team move into second place in the league:

“I was quite pleased with today in many ways. I thought we used the ball quite well. Olton sat back very deep there were lots of numbers in their half and very little space but I thought when we got going we created a lot of chances and probably should have scored more.” He added: “Games against Olton are always competitive, but I knew they’d lost some players over the summer, we weren’t sure what to expect from them because of it, but I was pleased with how we adapted and coped with them.”

Next week Olton travel to fellow strugglers and local rivals Sutton Coldfield in an important relegation battle whilst Clifton host Leicester.