Cullen Penalty Corner Prowess Wins Leicester Cup

England Hockey WOMEN’S CUP FINAL
Saturday 15 May 2010

Leicester 2 (2)
Crista Cullen 20, 31 (PC, PC)  
Reading 1 (0)
Helen Richardson 57 (PS)  

The penalty corner prowess of Crista Cullen won Leicester the 2010 Women’s Cup at Highfields Sports Club as the midlands club held off a late Reading fight back to win 2-1.

The 2010 final saw a clash of two of England’s strongest teams with 15 members of the Great Britain squad spread across the two.  And it was Cullen, one of those players, whose two first half penalty corners ultimately sealed victory for the 2008 Cup winners over Reading, who lost last year’s final to Bowdon Hightown.

Helen Richardson’s penalty stroke gave Reading renewed in the second half but Leicester held firm for the victory which will go some way to making up for the disappointment of losing the England Hockey League playoffs to Slough two weeks ago.

Leicester gave the captain’s armband to Beijing Olympian Jennie Bimson who retired following the match, calling time on her 17 year playing career.  Reading arrived without Scottish forward Laura Bartlett who was injured while playing for Great Britain against Germany on Wednesday.

There was little to separate the two sides in the opening exchanges with Reading content to allow Leicester time on the ball in their own half of the field without either side really troubling the other.

Reading’s Alex Danson had the only effort on goal early on as her snapshot from the edge of the circle was saved by her England and Great Britain teammate Maddie Hinch in the Leicester goal.

On 20 minutes Leicester were awarded the game’s first penalty corner which Crista Cullen (below) flicked inside the left hand post beyond the diving Mel Insall to put Leicester one up.

Crista Cullen scores for Leicester against Reading in the 2010 Women's Cup Final at Highfields Sports Club, Nottingham, May 2010

Reading goalkeeper Insall pulled off a good double save on the half hour after good work from Leicester Olympian Chloe Rogers down the right hand side.  After cutting out the cross with her stick she reacted quickly to save the follow up effort.

Shortly afterwards Leicester won two corners in two minutes.  The first broke down as they attempted an intricate passing move at the top of the circle but with Reading unable to fully clear the danger they conceded another corner.
This time there were no mistakes as Cullen fired home low to Insall’s right to double Leicester’s lead going into the half time break.

Insall made another good save from Leicester’s fourth penalty corner just two minutes into the second half. She judged the flight of the flick perfectly, diving to her right to turn the ball away to safety.

Reading's Kate Walsh tackles Leicester's Katie Long during the 2010 Women's Cup Final at Highfields Sports Club in Nottingham, May 2010

2-0 up and in control, Leicester were enjoying the majority of possession and good work by Hannah Macleod and Kerry Williams unlocked the Reading defence before Williams fired her shot at Insall. 

Reading breathed a sigh of relief in the 48th minute when they cleared a Cullen flick off the goal line and again six minutes later when Rogers hit the left post with a well executed shot.

With 56 minutes on the clock Leicester’s Emma Clarke found herself taking an enforced rest when she was shown a yellow card having been warned by the umpire just 60 seconds earlier.  And the numerical advantage worked in Reading’s favour as they won their first corner of the match. 

Kate Walsh’s low flick from the top of the circle found its way through and onto the foot of a Leicester player in front of goal giving umpire Sarah Bush no option but to award the penalty stroke. Helen Richardson stepped up to take the penalty, firing home high into the top left corner, giving Hinch no chance in the Leicester goal.

The goal gave Reading renewed hope and they pushed Leicester back deeper as the match entered its final ten minutes.

Marshalled by Cullen and Bimson, the Leicester defence was not going to give up its lead without a fight and as the clock ticked down Reading chances of a comeback slipped away. 

With three minutes remaining Alex Danson had a shot on target but it was a relatively straightforward clearance for Hinch and Leicester held on for a 2-1 victory.

Leicester ladies celebrate winning the 2010 Women's Cup, May 2010

Jennie Bimson of Leicester celebrates after winning the Women's Cup Final 2010 in her last match for Leicester before retiringImmediately after the match, Leicester Coach Chris Mayer said, “I always believed we could win today.  We have such a great group of girls and I’m really pleased for them.  To go unbeaten in the league was fantastic and the most pleasing thing was to play some great attacking hockey.  We bounced back well after the big disappointment of the playoffs.”

Jennie Bimson (right), who played her last match for the club, added: “I’m absolutely delighted. It has been a long season – ten months from pre-season to here – but all worth it. I’m sad to be ending my career but it’s great to win today and finish on a high.”

Her teammate Kerry Williams said, “It was a good team performance and it was pleasing to win, especially being Bimmo’s last game.”  Talking about Bimson, she added, “She’s a player I’ve always respected and looked up to.  I’m glad we won it for her.  I felt we were in control for most of the game but credit to Reading for coming back in the second half.”