Drama in EHL relegation battle

The final positions of the 2010/11 EHL season were confirmed in an enthrallingly intense weekend.

Relegations and championships went to the wire with hopes raised and dashed in equal order. Canterbury avoided automatic relegation by beating Brooklands MU thereby condemning their opponents to the drop in Men’s Premier Division whilst Cannock secured safety at the expense of Olton & WW in Women’s Premier Division. In the Conferences, the England Hockey helicopter remained safely in its garage – Have you seen the cost of fuel these days? – as top of Women’s and Men’s Conference North Sutton Coldfield and Durham University sewed up the titles and were presented their trophies and medals.

Michael Farrer celebrates scoring the last minute winning goal against Brooklands MU in the England Hockey League (EHL) relegation decider, 27 March 2011It was the ultimate in relegation battles in Men’s Premier Division as bottom side Canterbury hosted ninth placed Brooklands MU. It was always likely to be a closely contested fixture and so it proved with Canterbury requiring a last gasp winner from Michael Farrer to record their third win of the season – and the double over Brooklands – to earn a stay of execution and enter the EHL Promotion Tournament. Last gasp might even be an understatement as, with the whistle blown for full time, Canterbury completed their penalty corner routine which ended in a goal for Farrer.  It meant Brooklands were not even afforded the slightest chance of restoring parity; it will have come as a bitter blow as a draw would have sufficed for Brooklands to avoid immediate demotion. Tom Butt had opened the scoring for Canterbury in the eighth minute, a lead which was held until the 43rd minute when David Seddon equalised through a penalty corner strike prior to the late winner. You can view photos from the big match, courtesy of Ady Kerry here.

Bowdon clinched the final EHL Championships qualification place in style by beating Reading 4-1 on Sunday. The teams will meet again on Saturday 2nd April as 4th v 5th placed teams meet. England and GB international Ali Brogdon netted twice for the home side before Ole Keusgen and fellow England player Simon Egerton rounded off the scoring; Reading’s only reply came from Tom Bertram in the 61st minute. Loughborough Students surrendered their position in the Championships after losing 4-3 to top of the table East Grinstead. Though Loughborough battled back from a three goal deficit they were unable to earn a share of the points, but it would have been immaterial in lieu of Bowdon’s win. Hampstead & Westminster had been waiting in the wings to snatch the final place had Bowdon and Loughborough lost. Although the results did not go their way, they certainly did their bit by hammering six past Cannock, Will Naylor scoring four. In a pre-cursor to Sunday’s EHL Championships fixture in which Beeston host Surbiton, Surbiton played host for the final game of the season. Perhaps neither side wanted to give away defensive secrets in the free scoring 6-4 victory for the hosts. Beijing Olympian Matt Daly provided a highlight by netting four, two in each half, ahead of what may be a very different encounter on 3 April.

Cannock won promotion into the Women’s Premier Division via the EHL Promotion Tournament at the end of last season. They managed to avoid the threat of relegation through the same tournament this season thanks to a 3-1 win over local rivals University of Birmingham. Carla Dunnett celebrates scoring a goal for Clifton in the Women's England Hockey League (EHL) Premier DivisionThe win – courtesy of goals from Royston, Leigh and Watton – was not enough to secure their safety; it was dependent on the result from Olton & WW’s fixture with Clifton. Dawn Mitchell and Carla Dunnett (pictured) scored for Clifton before Lucilla Wright offered a last minute lifeline for Olton & WW. It did not spark the late comeback they required, needing just a point for safety, and instead Olton dropped into the EHL Promotion Tournament and must face the champions from each of the Conferences to fight for their place in the Premier Division. EuroCanterbury’s 2-1 win over relegated Brooklands Poynton meant they finished just two points behind Leicester. They host Reading on Sunday in the Championships having lost both times the two sides have met this season. Leicester was held to a 0-0 draw by Slough who will travel to Bowdon Hightown on Saturday in the 4th v 5th play-off. The winner of Hightown and Slough will travel to Leicester on Sunday. Reading are the form side in Women’s Premier Division and their 4-0 win over Bowdon Hightown in which Alex Danson scored a hat-trick, was their tenth in a row. Reading’s trip to EuroCanterbury, as a result, promises to be an exciting matchup. 

EHL Championships Fixtures

Sat 2 April Qualifying 1
Men's Match 1 Reading v  Bowdon
Women's Match 1 Bowdon Hightown v  Slough
Sun 3 April Qualifying 2
Men's Match 2 East Grinstead v  Winner Match 1
Men's Match 3 Beeston v  Surbiton
Women's Match 2 Leicester v  Winner Match 1
Women's Match 3 EuroCanterbury v  Reading
Sat 9 April Finals, Cannock HC
Men's Match 4 (if req'd) Loser Match 2 v  Loser Match 3
Women's Match 4 Winner Match 2 v  Winner Match 3
Men's Match 5 Winner Match 2 v  Winner Match 3

Men’s Conference East Champions Southgate finished the season on a high with a 5-1 home win over Harleston Magpies. At the bottom of the Conference, Sevenoaks lost at home against Wimbledon sealing their relegation fate which meant St. Albans enters the EHL Relegation play-offs. St. Albans are joined in the play-offs by Harborne, from the Conference North, whose 7-1 defeat on Sunday meant they dropped into the play-off place in conjunction with Barford Tigers beating relegated Ben Rhydding 3-1. Durham University were the creators of Harborne’s 7-1 defeat as Laurie Hill’s first half hat-trick set them en route to victory and the Men’s Conference North title. It was a fine win for a side under pressure heading into the final weekend, but Sheffield Hallam’s 3-3 draw with Belper and Doncaster’s 3-2 defeat by Olton & WW meant they secured the title by three points. Durham will face Southgate, Canterbury and Conference West side University of Exeter in the Promotion Tournament. University of Exeter rounded off their season with a 2-1 victory over relegated Stourport, but needed two goals in the last ten minutes to secure their 16th win this season. Fareham got their fifth win of the season thanks to Paul Hilton’s second goal in the 66th minute edging out Whitchurch 4-3. Unfortunately, the win didn’t secure their safety because Bournville secured the point they needed to avoid the play-offs in a 2-2 draw with Havant.

Sevenoaks registered their 12th win of the season in preparation for competing in the Promotion Tournament by beating Cambridge City 4-0; less than ideal preparations for their opponents who will be competing in the Relegation play-offs. Women’s Conference North side Aldridge & Walsall will join Cambridge in the relegation play-offs after a Houdini-esque escape from automatic relegation.  For a side that had won only once – on the first day of the season – and sat three points adrift with two games to play, four points from those games, including a 4-1 win over Beeston on Saturday, gave them the lifeline of the play-offs. Belper were the victims of Aldridge’s form following a 5-2 loss against Sunderland which sees them relegated from the EHL. Sutton Coldfield, under pressure from Loughborough Students, needed a win to secure the Women’s Conference North. Loughborough hosted Doncaster and Rachel Malcolm’s two goals set her side up for a 4-0 win, meanwhile, Sutton Coldfield – top scorers in the EHL in all divisions – trounced a Durham University side that had put a spanner in Loughborough Students’ title hopes only a week earlier. Charlene Mason hit two as Sutton romped to a 6-1 win to secure the title and their place in the EHL Promotion Tournament amongst Olton & WW, Sevenoaks and Buckingham. Conference West Champions Buckingham finished their season with a 2-1 win over Trojans to head into the post season in fine form. Exe and Staines clashed in the crucial fixture of the division being that their EHL status was on the line. With Worcester already relegated, Exe and Staines were competing to avoid a place in the relegation play-offs with the last time the two teams met ending in a 1-1 draw. History has a way of repeating itself and Linda Webb’s 41st strike for Exe was cancelled out shortly after by Melanie Martell which earned a draw for Staines. The final score parity was enough to secure Staines’ safety whilst Exe enter the play-offs despite gaining 18 points.  

EHL Promotion Relegation Tournament Fixtures

Sat 30 April
1200 Women P/R Olton & WW v Sutton Coldfield
1400 Women P/R Sevenoaks v Buckingham
1600 Men's P/R Durham University v Southgate
1800 Men's P/R Canterbury v University of Exeter
Sun 1 May
1100 Women P/R Sutton Coldfield v Sevenoaks
1300 Women P/R Buckingham v Olton & WW
1500 Men's P/R Southgate v Canterbury
1700 Men's P/R University of Exeter v Durham University
Mon 2 May
1100 Women P/R Buckingham v Sutton Coldfield
1100 Women P/R Sevenoaks v Olton & WW
1330 Men's P/R University of Exeter v Southgate
1330 Men's P/R Canterbury v Durham University