Slazenger EHL Season Concludes

Four titles were settled at the weekend as the championships went to the wire in one of the tightest EHL seasons to date.

Slazenger EHL 2008-09 East Grinstead's Martin Haner, defended by Surbiton's James Tindall 

East Grinstead were the big winners, claiming the Men’s Premier Division title for the first time in their history.  The side were leaders heading into the weekend needing a win to guarantee the title on their travels to Surbiton.  It was never the easy game they would have hoped, nor expected; evidenced by all three of Surbiton’s scorers holding GB honours.  In the 48th minute Ben Hawes’ penalty stroke goal for Surbiton put the Londoners into a 3-2 lead and the task for East Grinstead looked vast.  If ever there was a need for a hero from the East Grinstead team, now was it, and Dominic Male stood up to be counted scoring twice in four minutes to turn the result around and put the Sussex side back into pole position.  Martin Häner put the game beyond doubt when he dispatched a trademark penalty corner into the back of the Surbiton goal in the last minute to claim their first title and for EH President Martin Gotheridge to present the trophy.

Beeston, who had the opportunity to take advantage of any slip-ups at Sugden Road, fell to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Hampstead and Westminster’s Will Naylor who scored all three of his side’s goals, two in the last four minutes. Richard Stamp’s equaliser in the 21st minute had provided hope for the Bees but they were unable to build on that goal and were ultimately were punished by Naylor’s two late goals, though they will be consoled by their qualification into the Euro Hockey League.  Reading, last season’s champions, made no such mistake by condemning Cannock to their heaviest defeat in some time, a 5-0 demolition.  Austin Smith’s three goals helped the Berkshire side to their 12th win of the season, which took them into second place usurping Beeston into third.  Havant will participate in the EHL Premier Division play-offs on the back of a 3-2 victory over relegated Southgate, Ezz Mohamed’s winner coming in the 65th minute.  Bowdon’s 0-1 loss at home to Loughborough Students left them just two points clear of the relegation play-offs, closer than they would have wished.

In the Women’s Premier Division, Bowdon Hightown’s dream of a 100% record for the season was dashed by the in-form Canterbury as they succumbed to a 3-1 defeat.  Canterbury took 13 points from their final five games in their assault on a European qualification place, but they finished a point short of Olton & WW in third.  Natasha Brennan (2) and Cindy Botha scored the goals to halt Hightown’s winning run and claim the right as the only side to take points from the Women’s Premier Division Champions this season.  Olton’s 3-2 win at Poynton staved off the threat of Canterbury to secure European qualification by finishing second; Denise Marston Smith scored the winner in the 43rd minute, the second of her two goals.  The bottom two sides, Chelmsford and Ipswich, fittingly ended their seasons in a 2-2 draw, Chelmsford rescuing a point in the 68th minute courtesy of Sarah Glanvill.  Kerry Williams’ 70th minute penalty corner was too late to earn any points for her side as Slough took the three points against Leicester, Alex Scott and Lauren Penney the scorers for Slough.  Trojans and Clifton went into halftime 1-1 in their last game of the season, neither side was able to progress the scoreline in the second half and the game ended in a draw.

The Men’s Conference East title was claimed by Oxted who earned the points they needed to secure the title in a 2-1 away win at Sevenoaks; Johannes Kloess scored the 61st minute winner.  They were presented their medals and trophy by Match Official Nancy Sharman.  Canterbury’s 4-3 win at Indian Gymkhana meant they had done their utmost to challenge for the title finishing two points back in second.  Old Loughtonians condemned City of Peterborough to the relegation play-offs after handing out a 7-0 thrashing away from home.  Chelmsford retained their EHL status in dramatic fashion after a 6-3 win over bottom side Ipswich in their vital relegation clash.  The bottom of the table was close enough that a win for Ipswich would have achieved their survival.

Men’s Conference North was settled in theatrical style.  The title rested on Brooklands MU v Belper, a win or draw for Brooklands MU would be enough, Belper needed the win for the trophy.  Brooklands, the home club, went into the last ten minutes 3-1 down after Nick Morris had added to Belper’s two first half goals.  Ollie Cooper was the man of the moment for the Manchester club scoring a double salvo in two minutes to level the score at 3-3.  The remaining eight minutes were nervy and tense but Belper were unable to respond and the draw was enough for Match Official Tony Shutt to be able to present the trophy and medals to Brooklands.  Relegated Telford and Wrekin claimed their first win of the season over play-off condemned Formby 4-0. 

Firebrands escaped automatic relegation on the last day of the season thanks to an impressive 2-1 home win over Bournville in Men’s Conference West; they now face the relegation play-offs.  Cardiff & UWIC’s 1-2 defeat at home against Team Bath Buccaneers, therefore, meant automatic relegation in their inaugural EHL season. 

Women’s Conference East leaders, Reading, lost their only game of the season on Saturday against bottom of the table and already relegated Maidstone; Rachel Thompson providing some solace to Maidstone’s relegation campaign.  Sevenoaks’ 3-2 win over second place Barnes HE was not enough to avoid the relegation play-offs due to Staines’ 2-0 win away at Horsham.  That was despite Sevenoaks having salvaged the three points at the death with Kathryn Barnett and Fiona Harland scoring in the 68th and 70th minutes respectively.

Women’s Conference North was won at the Wear derby by Durham University as their 6-2 win over Sunderland gave Match Official Brian Oram the honour of presenting them with their medals and the trophy.  Loughborough Students’ did all they could to try and take advantage of any upset in the North East by recording a 4-0 victory over Liverpool Sefton, but no shock was forthcoming so they finished a point behind Durham in second.  Whitley Bay and Tynemouth hosted Ben Rhydding in a relegation survival clash.  On the same points heading into the match, both teams were fighting to avoid automatic relegation and earn a place in the relegation play-offs.  It was Whitley Bay and Tynemouth that struck the first blow with Jenny Bradley scoring in the tenth minute and with Ben Rhydding unable to reply it was Whitley Bay that scored the second, and last, goal of the game through Kath Smith’s 65th minute penalty corner.  It is Whitley Bay and Tynemouth, therefore, that head into the play-offs and Ben Rhydding automatically relegated. 

It was status quo in Women’s Conference West with University of Birmingham having been crowned champions, St Austell automatically relegated and Rover Oxford in the play-offs.  Unsurprisingly then, St Austell and Rover Oxford both lost 7-0 to Sutton Coldfield and 3-0 to Cannock respectively.  University of Birmingham won 5-0 at Swansea and established by far the greatest goal difference in the league of +98 over the season.