Smith’s last-gasp strike lifts Clifton and breaks hearts of brave Beeston
THERE could not have been a more dramatic finish to the match at Nottingham Hockey Centre which saw Clifton Robinsons reach the final of this year’s Investec Women’s Cup.
In the closing seconds, Harriet Smith scored the winner when she deftly converted a penalty corner and immediately the ball hit the backboard the final whistle blew.
Smith’s strike, however, was just the climax of two minutes of action which had also seen Beeston’s defence block two other penalty corners only to have their methods ruled as fouls by umpires Gill Lord and Caroline Frye.
Yet as her teammates grabbed Smith with congratulatory hugs, they must have felt a sense of relief alongside the joy of knowing they would be heading to Lee Valley for the final, which they learned shortly after would be against Surbiton.
For the Premier League outfit had struggled for 70 minutes to subdue a young but fast emerging Beeston team which finished runners up in this year’s Conference North.
Beeston’s coach Colin Clarke said: “I thought the game was an exceptional spectacle of hockey.
“Clifton are not out of touch with the top clubs in the Premier Division but we had our chances in the first half and even in the second we were actually on top in the period leading up to them getting that late goal.
“That’s why their play- ers celebrated at the end as if they had won the World Cup – it said a lot about how much it meant to them to have beaten us.” And while Clarke was doubly disappointed to have just missed out not only on reaching the final but also on the Conference North’s promotion play-off place, he believes targets like those could be heading Beeston’s way soon. “It’s the way this club is going,” he said. “I am very proud of the way they played today because we had eight schoolgirls in the team of 16.
“It is a great thing for this club here because it shows we should have a great future.”
The youngsters had Clifton on the backfoot right from the start of the match as Sophie Robinson, this season’s leading scorer in the Conference North, and Rosy Stephens forced saves from Sarah Ellis and Rebekah Walker crashed a shot into the side-netting.
And it was only after Robinson limped off with an ankle injury and the game was half an hour old that Clifton really threatened the Beeston goal, only for Nicki Cochrane to keep out a shot from Claire Thomas at full stretch.
While the three penalty corners that did eventually decide the cup-tie were the subject of after-match chatter, so too was the one from which Clifton took the lead in the 49th minute.
The tactic used was not a common one. After their huddle, Joie Leigh put the ball back to the edge of the Beeston D, but rather than
shoot when it was teed up for her, Kate Holmes passed it back to Leigh and she tucked the ball past Cochrane from an angle.
Clifton coach Steve Rixon said: “In our training sessions we spend a lot of time working on the way we take penalty corners and that one came from Scotland in a match against England.”
And it only took ten minutes for Beeston to show that they could play copycats as well.
Amazingly, considering the pain that gripped Robinson’s face when she hurt her ankle, she was back on the pitch to take their fifth penalty corner of the match. She knocked the ball out to Esme Burge and when given a reverse pass managed to find an angle past Ellis.
And so the game moved backwards and forwards with Clifton’s captain, the Scottish international Aileen Davis, appearing to be in the thick of every move they made though goal chances created from free-play were few and far between.
“It was a really tough game,” said Rixon. “Beeston worked really hard in the first half. They put us under pressure in a lot of areas and while I would have been disappointed to lose, I think they will feel they did enough to win it.
“During the interval I told the girls they were playing too narrow and needed to put more pressure on Beeston in the wider areas. At the end of the day, we took our chance and won.”
Then as news reached Nottingham that Surbiton had given Bowdon a fivegoal hammering in the other semi-final, Rixon accepted his side would have to ‘lift their game’ to win the Cup at Lee Valley.
But he drew some comfort from the fact that eight days earlier his players had built a two-goal lead against the Premier Division’s table-toppers before eventually losing 4-3. “That is something we will be able to take with us,” he said.
It’s there! Joie Leigh, left, watches her shot pass the outstretched arm of Beeston keeper Nicki Cochrane to set up victory and break Beeston hearts, below