Manic Monday lives up to its name

On a memorable and historic day for English clubs in Europe, three sides progressed to their respective European semi finals in dramatic circumstances as Manic Monday lived up to its name. 

Early in the day, Reading became the first English side to reach the semi finals of the Euro Hockey League since its creation  when they beat Belgian side KHC Dragons on penalties in Bloemendaal, thanks largely to an excellent performance from England and Great Britain goalkeeper Nick Brothers and the tightest of tight video umpire calls in their penalty shoot-out.  Following Reading’s progress, all eyes turned to ‘s-Hertogenbosch and the women’s EuroHockey Club Champions Cup where Leicester and Slough were aiming to make it through their quarter final ties.  In tough circumstances both sides progressed, in Slough's case after a contentious penalty shoot-out, to set up a mouth watering all English semi final in June.

In an evenly balanced match in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, one goal from Lauren Turner was enough as Leicester battled hard to beat Berliner HC in a pulsating tie.  Both sides created opportunities from open play and penalty corners throughout but Turner’s goal four minutes before half time was the ultimate decider that put the girls in orange through to semi finals.

Following Leicester’s success, Slough took on Club de Campo Villa de Madrid of Spain.  Things got off to a great start for Slough as they took the lead through Lauren Penny’s goal and despite being pegged back to 1-1 from an 18th minute penalty corner, Ashleigh Ball’s goal before half time gave the 2010 England Hockey League champions the upper hand at the break.  As the second half began and the match progressed the Spanish pressed hard for an equaliser but it looked as if Slough had done enough until less than a minute from time when Montserrat Cruz stunned them with an equaliser.  Without an extra time winner the game went to penalties and after three penalties each the teams were tied at two successful conversions, although Slough were slightly fortunate that Nicola White was allowed to retake and successfully convert a failed effort after an error by the umpire.  After Argentina international Carla Rebecchi scored Club de Campo’s first sudden death penalty and England and Great Britain forward White matched the feat, everything turned when Cruz failed to score in the allotted time on the second sudden death penalty.  International midfielder Ball stepped up knowing Slough would progress if she scored but she saw her effort saved only to be awarded a penalty goal for an infringement by the goalkeeper.  The decision sparked scenes of celebration in the Slough ranks as Club de Campo protested to the umpire but the protests fell on deaf ears and Slough progressed to set up a tantalising all English semi final clash with Leicester on the weekend of 10-11 June.   The other semi final will be an all Dutch affair with Laren facing this weekend’s hosts and likely favourites Den Bosch for a place in the final against either Leicester or Slough.
Read the text commentary of Leicester and Slough's quarter finals at www.hcdb.info

Earlier in the day, Reading’s men became England’s first Euro Hockey League semi finalists.  A lot was expected of the Blues after they had overcome domestic rivals East Grinstead in the previous round and following the elimination of Beeston on Sunday but KHC Dragons gave as good as they got in a match that will live long in the memories of all those who saw it.  In the first quarter, Andy Watts’ drive into the Belgian circle saw him create the space to flick the ball beyond the goalkeeper with Warren D’Souza on the back post to apply the final touch as the ball crossed the line.  But in bizarre circumstances Reading let the Dragons back into the match with an extraordinary own goal off the foot of Rhys Joyce.  The existence of own goals is a Euro Hockey League feature and Joyce was unlucky to see a long pass fired into the circle come off his foot and wrong-foot Nick Brothers before rolling inside the far post past the sprawling goalkeeper.  International midfielder Iain Mackay restored Reading’s lead as he made it 2-1 in the fourth quarter tucking home a loose ball after Richard Mantell’s penalty corner was thwarted.  And after Tom Bertram batted away a penalty corner effort on the line at chest height and Brothers had kept out another corner Reading looked as if they would hold out under mounting Dragons pressure but Renaud Pangrazio bundled home a crushing equaliser with 40 seconds remaining to force extra time. 

As extra time came and went, the match went to penalties; the second of what would later become three quarter finals decided by penalties.  Jonty Clarke scored Reading’s first and Brothers then pulled off a good block to give Reading the advantage but when Simon Mantell lobbed his effort onto the roof of the net and Brothers was beaten by the Dragons’ second, it all rested on the third efforts.  Iain Mackay coolly slid home his effort leaving Brothers to face the final penalty.  With the clock ticking down, good goalkeeping from Brothers held up Loic Vandeweghe but the Belgian player eventually got his shot off to score.  Such was the time that Brothers had held up Vandeweghe, Reading believed that the timing whistle had sounded before the ball crossed the line for the goal and appealed to the video umpire.  After a lengthy delay and many slow motion replays the decision was overturned, sealing victory for Reading and earning them a place in the semi final against Club de Campo Villa de Madrid.  In the other semi final, an all Dutch affair will see HGC take on Oranje Zwart after the latter beat hosts Bloemendaal, also on penalties. The semi finals will take place on 11 June.
Watch highlights of the match and see the draw at www.ehlhockey.tv