Smith’s last-gasp strike lifts Clifton and breaks hearts of brave Bee­ston

The Hockey Paper - - INVESTEC WOMEN’S CUP - by Gra­ham Ot­way

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

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