Whitchurch Men’s 1s 4 Northop Hall Men’s 2s 2
Whitchurch’s final game of the season was at home and, with league safety assured, they looked to play a controlled match against a team fighting at the bottom of the table. With the pressure driving Northop to go for the win, the game started with great intensity which Whitchurch had to ensure they matched.
The first half was full of strong tackles, and powerful drives, and a few cards were shown when both teams got too enthusiastic but on the whole the two sides were evenly balanced. Northop Hall made some good runs and aggressive drives down both wings, and were again kept out by some excellent work by Paul “Sturge” Leigh in goal, including a smart glove deflection which looped up and bounced off the crossbar and away. Whitchurch’s midfield had plenty of work to do, but Alex Fry, Marcus Conway, Tom Forster, Jack Barnes and Dale Seymour worked the ball well to wrestle control of the match away from Northop, and up front, Nick Cooper, Ben Kimberley, Craig Hockenhull and Sam Conway were able to find their way into the Northop dee on several occasions, but some good work by their defence and keeper kept the score down.
Eventually the pressure told, with some lovely work by Cooper driving into the dee and then switching the ball to Marcus Conway who slotted the ball into the goal. Conway was then heavily involved in the second, working a good one-two with Barnes who ran round the edge of the dee before putting all his power through the ball past the keeper’s head into the top of the netting from a tight angle.
As the second half developed, Whitchurch maintained good control of the match. Whereas in the first half some passes hadn’t made their targets or were speculative hits up the pitch, balls were reaching their targets and marking was much better. This was never more apparent than when Northop had sixteen’s where time and again there was no out-ball for them as every player was marked, so they would hit-and-hope – but a Red stick would pick the ball very early and pressure would immediately be applied again. One such pickup led to a goalmouth scramble where Sam Conway finally got his first goal of the season as he tapped in at the back post.
The Reds had shot after shot at goal which were either kept out by good work from the Northop keeper, or missed by inches. However, Northop did finally get a goal back as a speculative ball forward got past James Partington in defence and was picked up and flicked over a diving Sturge right at the edge of the Whitchurch dee. The defence of Partington, Pip Jones, Danny Foulkes, Airan Jones and Fred Egerton had a solid game, and were able to prevent a number of attacks and generally marked well, but the Northop forwards were well-drilled and quick, and another breakaway doubled the score as a Northop attacker got into the dee and was able to force the ball out from under a prone keeper and into the goal for their second.
Whitchurch rallied, determined not to get the game get away from them and some more simple but effective hockey, moving the ball well up the wings and across the dee let Cooper get one more for the season as he slotted the ball in at the back post after some more strong work in the Northop dee. Whitchurch finish the season mid-table, again showing their ability across the season but also knowing there are areas to improve upon for next year. The younger players have had strong seasons and merited their selection time and again; the older players provided experience and composure and the ones in between gave their all with speed and skill, and the sense of team spirit was far improved this year. A good season comes to an end, promising a bright 2019/20 season to come.
Northop Hall Men’s 3s 3 Whitchurch Men’s 2s 0
The Men’s 2s travelled to Hawarden on Saturday afternoon for their final game of the season against Northop Hall 3s. With the home side a couple of points behind table-toppers Chester, they themselves were looking for a win to set up a title decider against Chester next weekend. On paper this was always going to be a tough fixture for the Reds but, for the second week running, the 2s went into a match with a full squad of 16 players, three of which had already played u14s hockey in Shropshire that morning.
The visitors started the match strongly. Richard Leigh, Joe Coburn and Ethan Gresty were keeping good possession high up the pitch and creating some promising positions for James Page and Jacob Buckeridge. Euan Morris was always involved linking the play but Northop defended well, and on a really slow and challenging playing surface, Whitchurch couldn’t fashion any meaningful chances.
After weathering the early storm, the home side began to find their passes and as Whitchurch attacks broke down, Northop Hall were quick to counter. Doug Buckeridge, Mark Sugden, Wyn Morris and Brendan Coburn had to work hard to deal with powerful running from the Northop midfield and the pace the home side had available up front. As the half progressed the defending became a bit more ragged and the home side started to win short corners, although Gareth Teggin was relatively untested in goal.
Eventually, with the pressure mounting on the Whitchurch goal, the home side opened the scoring after a short corner. A poor clearance was returned into the dee and Gareth Teggin’s kick clear unfortunately fell straight onto a Northop stick, with the ball being swept back into an unguarded goal.
The Reds were soon 2-0 down, and frustrated when a late tackle seemed to have knocked the defenders stick out of his hand when trying to clear the ball out of the dee, leaving Northop in a good position to square the ball past Gareth for a finish into an empty goal.
Whitchurch continued to plug away, but were struggling to find their passing range on the slow pitch. Passes were often falling short of their intended recipients and the visiting players were finding it difficult to dribble the ball with enough pace to get past the solid Northop defending.
Whitchurch shuffled their formation at halftime, looking to plug some of the gaps in the centre of the pitch that Northop had exploited in the first half. David Brunyard and Alex Leigh were sitting a little deeper to protect the defenders and Joe Faithfull and Luke Beddow were tucking in to force Northop into the wider areas of the pitch. This worked reasonably well over the course of the second half as plenty of Northop attacks were being stopped at source. The defenders continued to work hard and reduced the home side’s shooting chances, but keeper Teggin did make one excellent stop when one-on-one with the Northop striker.
Unfortunately the Reds did concede a third goal from a messy short corner. As Wyn broke early, it looked like the umpire was going to stop play and reset the short, but when the whistle didn’t go it was Northop who were first to react and the ball was scruffily pushed into the Whitchurch goal.
Throughout the second half Whitchurch tried to play the good passing hockey that has become a pleasingly familiar sight from the side over the past couple of months. Despite the struggles with the pace of the pitch they managed to work themselves into some good positions. Owen Pearce and James Page were offering Euan plenty of support up front, and Ethan, the two Joes, Luke and Jacob all found themselves in good attacking positions. But despite plenty of shots the team couldn’t find that elusive goal through a combination of good defending, good goalkeeping and simply missing the target.
This was a tough afternoon for the Reds on a tricky pitch against a good side, but despite the 3-0 defeat the side gave a good account of themselves and really made Northop Hall work hard for their victory. Perhaps the team will feel that all of the goals could have been dealt with a bit better, or on another day the umpire’s calls may have gone in their favour, but that would be a bit churlish to the home side, who played well and probably deserved their victory in a good game of hockey.
The 2s currently sit 7th in the league table with Runcorn and Oxton playing each other next weekend, they cannot finish bottom of the league this season.
But the league table isn’t important, because more significant has been the development of this very young side since September. The 2s have lost all of their experienced players to circumstances and the 1s, but six of the current under-14s and seven other juniors, all under 16-years old, have played regularly for the 2s this season. The side has recovered from losing all of their first 8 games of the season and have mustered three wins, a draw, and two tight defeats away to the top two sides in the division from their final eight matches. The Men’s 2s are now playing some really good hockey and working very hard to prevent their opponents from playing. The players should be proud of their progress this season and should look forward to making further progress in the seasons to come.
Captain, Doug Buckeridge, would like to extend his thanks to everybody who has played 2s hockey this season, the drivers, the players and families who have helped out with teas, and the umpires who have officiated home and away this season. Roll on September!