Sur­biton show ruth­less edge as brave Clifton pull up just short

The Hockey Paper - - INVESTEC WOMEN'S PREMIER DIVISION - By Gra­ham Ot­way

AS Clifton coach Steve Rixon walked off the Sug­den Road pitch on Satur­day he had no de­sire to learn about the re­sults of other matches played on the clos­ing day of the In­vestec Women’s Hockey League sea­son.

Ear­lier, he and his play­ers had ar­rived at Sur­biton know­ing that if they could pull off a shock vic­tory over the run­away league cham­pi­ons Clifton had an out­side chance of climb­ing into next month’s play-offs.

And that was cer­tainly a pos­si­bil­ity at half-time when they held a two-goal lead through a penalty corner from Joanna Leigh and a coolly-taken chance from for­mer Sur­biton for­ward Me­gan Crow­son who out­foxed keeper Louisa Bray in a one-on-one.

Sur­biton, how­ever, fought back in the se­cond half and a brace of goals apiece from Giselle Ans­ley and colum­nist Beckie Mid­dle­ton saw them close their cam­paign nine points ahead of their near­est ri­vals.

The fact that Clifton only fin­ished sixth in the fi­nal table was not at the fore­front of Rixon’s think­ing. He was any­thing but de­pressed that the Univer­sity of Birm­ing­ham and East Grin­stead had clinched the fi­nal two spots to play at Lee Val­ley in three weeks’ time.

In­stead, he was happy that with a cup semi-fi­nal to be played at Bee­ston on Satur­day his play­ers had shown against the best women’s side in the coun­try that they have the abil­ity to make the fi­nal.

“We pushed Sur­biton very hard,” said Rixon. “They are a very tal­ented team full of in­ter­na­tion­als. We knew the game would be a big chal­lenge and we rose to it.

“We have done a lot of work this sea­son or­gan­is­ing the way we oc­cupy the space be­hind our at­tacks – when girls should de­cide whether to go for­ward and sup­port the at­tacks or hang back and make sure they are not ex­posed by counter at­tacks.

“And espe­cially in the first half as well us scor­ing the goals Sur­biton did not have many chances. It was only in the se­cond half when they forced so many penalty cor­ners that things changed.

“But the girls can take a lot of this game. It was good prepa­ra­tion for the trip to Bee­ston.”

The game was 43 min­utes old when Sur­biton opened their ac­count as Ans­ley forced home a penalty corner for the first of her two goals, tak­ing her per­sonal tally for the sea­son to 15 – the most by any player in the Pre­mier League.

Mid­dle­ton opened her ac­count in sim­i­lar style and when Ans­ley con­verted a third penalty corner in 62nd minute Sur­biton had their noses in front but they only stayed ahead for three be­fore Aileen Davis hit back with a penalty corner equaliser for Clifton.

Through­out the se­cond half, how­ever, Clifton strug­gled to cope with at­tack­ing play of Eng­land’s Han­nah Martin who seemed to play a key part in ev­ery Sur­biton at­tack and had a hand in win­ning goal scored from open play by Mid­dle­ton just three min­utes be­fore the fi­nal whis­tle.

“Han­nah had her best game for us this sea­son, “said Sur­biton coach Brett Gar­rard. “She was out­stand­ing. And I would say the way we played in the se­cond half was one of the team’s best per­for­mances of the sea­son as well.”

Clifton were not helped by the num­ber of penalty cor­ners they con­ceded which at one stage in the se­cond half saw Alex Dan­son, Kate Holmes and Han­nah Coul­son all briefly sent to the sin­bin by the um­pires in the space of a cou­ple of min­utes.

Af­ter Rixon had spo­ken about his side’s grow­ing con­fi­dence ahead of their the cup semi-fi­nal he still knows that de­feat at Bee­ston would bring the cur­tain down on his team’s sea­son.

How­ever, in Sur­biton camp cap­tain Sarah Hay­worth knows that for the next 11 weeks her play­ers will be play­ing reg­u­larly un­der the heav­i­est of pres­sure not only in a cup semi-fi­nal, but also the

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