Buckingham and East Grinstead in playoff delight

Buckingham's Beth Stainsby slots home the penalty stroke against Slough

In the final round of the Investec Women’s Hockey League Play-Offs, it was the Buckingham and East Grinstead who came out on top and secured Premier Division Hockey for next season. East Grinstead, the East Conference Champions overcame Wakefield in a close game to ensure they finished in a promotion place, whilst Buckingham's draw with Slough was enough to maintain their top flight status for another year. 

Mel Ball 12 (F)

Beth Stainsby 59 (PS)

Both Buckingham and Slough began nervously, with a series of defensive mistakes showing the pressure that this match brought. Buckingham started making attacking chances, but were met with a well-organised and determined Slough defence - Kat McGonigle, Dilly Newton and Jess Ecott putting in commanding performances. Slough soon built confidence and took control of the half, and with ten minutes gone forced a mistake from Buckingham as a pass across the face of goal was latched onto by Mel Ball, who slid to deflect the ball into the back of the net. Slough continued to have the better of the possession and chances throughout the first half, including Mel Ball and Kelly Morgan coming close, but went into the break with a slender 1-0 lead.

The second period saw Amy Sheehan for Slough causing all sorts of problems to Buckingham, breaking down play in midfield and being at the centre of the Berkshire side’s attacks. But this was not a one-sided affair, Buckingham’s defence never looking anything but composed and controlled. In particular, Chloe Hobson and Zoe Shipperley put in some crucial tackles, the latter also finding her range with some fine passes. Buckingham’s composure paid off in the end, as Amie Hone won the Premier Division side a penalty flick. Beth Stainsby stepped up to take it, putting it wide of Amy Gibson in goal and bringing the scores to 1-1. And so it remained as the final whistle sounded, giving Buckingham the vital point they needed to retain their Premier Division status.

Gwen Smith 19 (PC)
Sally Walton 31, 51 (F, PS)

Sophie Bray 3, 25 (F, F)
Lucy Brown 10 (F)
Pippa Rabey 65 (PC)

Wakefield had good early pressure however, following a quick break, it was East Grinstead who found the back of the net first courtesy of a backhand shot from Sophie Bray. East Grinstead then doubled their lead within the first 10 minutes through Lucy Brown. Wakefield rallied and forced several good saves from Mackay in the East Grinstead goal however Gwen Smith’s deflection from a penalty corner was too much and brought the score to 2-1. East Grinstead restored their two goal lead with 10 minutes to half time, Heather Batten driving down the left and her cross found Bray in the circle. Cat Horn showed her pace for Wakefield, driving in to the circle and finding Sally Walton who calmly slotted the ball in to bring the score back to 3-2 with two minutes to half time.

Tensions were high after the break with both sides creating chances, Ruth Gordon’s goal for East Grinstead was disallowed after hitting an attackers foot in the circle. Wakefield worked their way back in to the circle with excellent passing between Walton and Horn but Walton’s shot was just wide of the post. Bara Kavanova was adjudged to have deliberately broken down play in front of goal and Wakefield were awarded a penalty stroke which Walton calmly slotted home to level the score at 3-3. It was Batten again who found a way in to the Wakefield circle and earned a penalty corner. A well worked corner from East Grinstead meant Pippa Rabey was free to fire to ball in to the roof of the net from close range bringing the score to 4-3 with 7 minutes remaining. Despite Wakefield opting to use a kicking back for the final 3 minutes there was no way back in to the game and the final score was 4-3 meaning East Grinstead have earned a place in the Investec Premier Division for 2015-16.

Beth Stainsby gave her thoughts on Buckingham’s performance after retaining their place in the top flight next season: “We always knew it was going to be really tough game, Slough are local rivals and when we’ve played them in the past it’s always been a battle. Luckily, we came into the match with a bit of leeway and we knew if we played to our game plan and did the right things then we’d get the result we needed."

Speaking after the game East Grinstead Captain Jo-Jo Davis gave her thoughts on the performance and her delight at gaining promotion to the Investec Premier Division: “It wasn’t our best performance, but it was a brilliant team effort and we managed to grind out the result today. I’m so delighted for the club, we’ve been on such a long journey to get to where we are and it’s credit to the whole team and the work that’s gone in to getting us here.”

Thoughts on star striker Sophie Bray who is top scorer and player of the season for the Investec East Conference and has scored five goals here this weekend: “She’s just a phenomenal player. The things she does sometimes and you just say “wow, how did she get the ball there and how did she score that goal?” People do sometimes just see her as a goal scorer, but she’s a lot more than that, especially when you look at the amount of goals she’s assisted and set-up this season; that’s why she’s player of the season.”