Whitchurch Mens 1s 4 – Neston Mens 5s 1
With the scheduled first games of the year all postponed because of Covid 19, Whitchurch started the season at home against Neston who had also been promoted last season. As such, the Reds knew the quality required would be high after two highly competitive games last season.
The match started at a high tempo, with Neston piling forward in numbers and moving the ball around well, and were unlucky not to get better results for their efforts. Paul “Sturge” Leigh was again solid in goal, making several diving saves despite an injury to his hand. Danny Foulkes controlled the defence, assisted by Chris Ruscoe and James Partington, and Steve Kay on his return, and they used the whole width of the pitch to start attacks as per the game plan. Dale Seymour and Joel Leese owned the centre of midfield and were able to spread the ball out wide to the wings as well as slowing play down and recycling back to Foulkes. Jack Barnes and Joe Coburn provided width, and were fundamental in building attacks. Up front, Martin Beecher, Tom Forster, Fred Egerton and Will Gilbert gave the Neston defence headaches, using their speed and strength to make a number of incisive runs.
It was a well-built attack coming from composure on the ball in the middle of the pitch which provided the first goal, with simple passes going straight to their targets, before Barnes unleashed a rocket into the Neston goal. It was followed shortly after by Beecher firing in the first strike from a short corner to put the Reds 2-0 up. The pressure started to show as some of the Neston tackles got less clean until tensions boiled over and a straight red card was shown to one of their players. The match restarted after a short pause, and both teams were keen to ensure that their hockey dictated the rest of the game and not cards, but having a one-player advantage gave Whitchurch some breathing room and allowed them to control large parts of the game.
In the second half, Neston had possession for large parts of the game despite being a player down, but were unable to get the final touch on the ball that would have given them a goal. Most of their attacks came down the middle, but they were able to use their wings, and Coburn and Ruscoe were instrumental in blocking attacks and returning fire. At the other end, Forster collected the ball wide on the left and was able to drive in and fire his shot behind the diving keeper to go 3-0 up, and then Gilbert scored his first of the season with a sublime tap-in at the back post, bringing the previous week’s training exercises right onto the match pitch.
There were a number of further opportunities for the Reds, with Beecher being unlucky to claim more goals, but Neston never gave up and were able to make one of their attacks count, driving into the Reds’ dee and picking up the rebound from Sturge’s excellent first block, before dinking it over him into the net.
The game finished 4-1, with Whitchurch going top of the league (with few games being played this week). While Covid may play a further role in the outcome of all sport this year, Whitchurch can be happy with their first game and it bodes well for continued success this season. First-game rustiness was mixed with some solid play and training-pitch set-pieces, and with more young players coming through it should provide a solid foundation for the year ahead.