Maxinutrition Hockey 5s Women’s Semi Final: Reading 4-3 Slough

Alex Dason at the Maxinutrition Hockey 5s Semi-Finals, Ketterig January 2014

A last-gasp strike from Alex Danson with just seconds left on the clock broke Slough’s hearts and sent Reading marching on to Wembley to face Bowdon Hightown in a repeat of the 2011 final.

Reading raced into a three goal lead in the first half with goals from Helen Richardson-Walsh and a brace from Alex Danson, but a spirited second half display by Slough had threatened to take the game to a shootout until Danson’s dramatic late strike.

Reading dominated the opening exchanges. Danson fed Helen Richardson-Walsh inside the D but her snap shot was well saved by Maddie Hinch.

Ashleigh Ball was trying to impose herself and went close in the opening five minutes, breaking two tackles on the left before Sarah Ellis raced from her line to make an excellent block near the top of the D. At the other end, Danson was narrowly wide with a reverse scoop but it remained goalless until the ninth minute. Kate Richardson-Walsh showed good vision to fire a long pass out from the back right through the middle of the pitch, finding Helen Richardson-Walsh unmarked at the top of the Slough D. She turned and slotted the ball past Hinch to break the deadlock. Minutes later, with Slough slow to react, Leah Wilkinson took a quick free-hit and found Danson on the right of the D. The Great Britain star rolled the defender beautifully and slid the ball past the advancing goalkeeper to make it 2-0.

Reading were threatening to run away with the game and it was largely the brilliance of Hinch that kept them at bay. Ellie Cockburn was denied by the former Leicester goalkeeper who recovered to get across the goal and smother the follow up from Helen Richardson-Walsh. There was little Hinch could do to keep out a fierce penalty corner from Danson, making it 3-0 but Slough returned fire with a well worked penalty corner of their own from Mel Ball to make it 3-1. On the stroke of half time, Slough were denied a second as Alex Scott’s drag flick crashed against the post and bounced to safety, ensuring Reading’s two goal cushion remained intact at the break.

Slough started the second half with a renewed optimism. Scott saw her early penalty corner well blocked by Sarah Ellis and then scooped a good chance over the bar. Ellis had to be at her best again as another slick penalty corner presented Harriet Cunningham with a chance, but her lofted effort was bravely blocked by the Reading No1 using her body. Steve Bayer’s side threatened on the break and could have gone further ahead from a Sam Quek drag flick which was brilliantly touched away by Hinch, diving full length to her right. Hinch then bettered that save, somehow getting up from a prone position on the floor to get a glove on Susie Gilbert’s lob with a stunning piece of athleticism.

Slough pressed again, desperately trying to find their second goal, however after Wilkinson cleared off the line from Mel Ball it looked like it was not to come. With Reading seemingly having weathered the storm, Slough made it 3-2 after 32 minutes. Ashleigh Ball’s low penalty corner snuck past Ellis and found the backboard just inside the far post.

With just four minutes remaining Slough’s pressure told and they tied the game up at 3-3. Ashleigh Ball’s shot from the top of the D was saved but fell to Scott, who showed excellent composure to lift the ball over Ellis into the roof of the net, sending the Slough fans wild.

The Sonning Lane side steeled themselves and not for the first time, Hinch saw them off, smothering well from Helen Richardson-Walsh and then making a fine double save from Danson and Kate Richardson-Walsh.

With the crowd preparing themselves for another shootout there was time for one final twist. Quek drive down the right with the clock running down, she cut the ball back to Danson who had peeled away from her marker; she made no mistake and fired a lovely low shot past Hinch to send Reading to Wembley for the fourth consecutive year.

Slough’s Great Britain international Ashleigh Ball told England Hockey: “All credit to Reading; they deserve their place in the final after a well-fought game. We did our utmost to beat them but in the end we just couldn’t quite manage it.” She added: “If we’d come top we might have got a favourable draw as first plays fourth but, we beat Reading in the league and we were confident today we could beat them again. It came down to a very small margin of defeat in the end.”

Reading Captain Emma Thomas was overjoyed at the prospect of another Wembley final for her team, saying:

“The great thing about indoor hockey is you only need a few seconds to score a goal and we’re fully aware of that. We’ve seen the men score three in 30 seconds, so when you only need one; there really is no excuse not to keep going until the final whistle, which is exactly what we did.” She continued: “We’re obviously absolutely thrilled to be going back to Wembley, but Slough deserve a lot of credit, they were outstanding and put up a really strong fight. They came back in the second half and made it really difficult for us. They showed what an excellent team they are and they showed us some things we need to work on between now and the final.”

Don't forget, you can still buy tickets for the Maxinutrition Hockey 5s Championship Finals, taking place at Wembley Arena on Sunday 2 February