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Surbiton HC News

IWHL Conference East Now Three Horse Race

The race for the Investec Women’s Hockey League Conference East title took an unexpected twist with both of the top two teams losing their unbeaten records on Sunday. Surbiton lost 1-0 at home to seventh placed Chelmsford, but any consolation that St. Albans had also lost by a single goal was tempered by the realisation that the Hertfordshire team’s defeat at third placed Sevenoaks left just four points separating the top three teams.

Surbiton started brightly at Sugden Road, forcing a penalty corner after just 42 seconds, Chloe Strong’s shot deflected past the left post, to gave an indication of the frustration that the home team were to suffer throughout the match.

Nevertheless, with the visitors making frequent unforced errors, and the home players forcing early interceptions, the prospects for victory seemed good. However, Chelmsford’s goalkeeper, Abi Ashford made an early glove save; Sandra Frankland was tackled by Louisa Taylor in the circle; and Vicky Bryant was unlucky, shooting past the left post. Following Chelmsford’s second penalty corner in the 25th minute, the visitors were awarded a penalty stroke, the award reversed after an umpires consultation, identifying that Chelmsford had committed an offence before the stroke was awarded.

Starting the second half with a goalless scoreline for the second successive day, Surbiton’s long run without conceding a goal was finally ended in the 41st minute, Loren Sherer, Chelmsford’s leading goalscorer, scoring her eleventh goal of the season to join Strong at the top of the divisional goalscoring chart, the ball billowing the net to Isabella Williamson’s right from the visitors’ third penalty corner. Bex Strange of Oxford Hawks had been  the last player to breach the Surbiton goal-line, back in November, since when, Surbiton’s defenders, and goalkeeper, Williamson, had held firm for 384 minutes.
Soon after the restart, Surbiton thought they’d equalised, but their frustration continued.

Chelmsford successfully defended eight penalty corners during the match, but in time added on after the final whistle, there was late drama, as not only had the visitors’ Hayley Heggie and Louisa Taylor both been sent to the sin-bin after being shown yellow cards; but from their ninth penalty corner, Surbiton were awarded a penalty stroke, after Becky Budd, who needed stitches after being struck on the head, was adjudged to have illegally prevented a goal. Goalkeeper Ashford proved to be Chelmsford’s heroine, preventing Strong’s stroke from crossing the line, preserving the visitors’ lead,  and ending Surbiton’s 16 game unbeaten run which had started after last season’s 2-0 defeat at Old Loughtonians.

Victory at Sevenoaks would have given St. Albans a one point lead, but, Jet Van Zalen’s tenth minute winner also condemned the second placed side to their first defeat of the season, and brought last season’s champions, Sevenoaks, back into contention, four points behind Surbiton with just five matches remaining.

Elsewhere, Ipswich lost 1-0 for the fifth time in six matches, Harleston Magpies stealing the points; and Oxford Hawks won 1-0 at Old Loughtonians.

Surbiton will now face a vital doubleheader next weekend as they aim to keep their promotion destiny in their own hands. They visit Luxborough Lane on Saturday (3 March – 1.30pm) to play Old Loughtonians; then on Sunday travel to Clarence Park (4 March – 1.30pm) knowing that anything other than a win over St. Albans will severely dent their promotion prospects.

Colin Pike

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