Holcombe women kicked off their Vitality Division One South campaign with an impressive 2-1 victory away to newly-promoted Southgate, courtesy of goals from Emma Bandurak and Phoebe Steele.
Nick Bandurak’s side, playing their first ever Division One match, took some time to settle into the game but looked largely in control for long spells in the second half, before a late Southgate goal sparked hopes of a comeback for the hosts.
Holcombe harbour ambitions of an immediate return to the Premier Division campaign this term and will be excited by a number of strong performances throughout the team, particularly from some of their six new signings, who will take time to settle.
The visitors had the first chance of the match when New Zealand international Deanna Ritchie latched onto a through ball, having her close-range effort saved by Southgate ‘keeper Louisa Bray.
Andy Richardson’s side, though, recovered well from the early scare and dominated the play for much of the first half, restricting Bandurak’s side to counter-attacking opportunities.
Southgate saw a succession of penalty corners defended superbly in the first quarter before 16-year-old goalkeeper Tilly Woodhead – making just her second competitive first-team appearance – made a brilliant save to deny the hosts at the end of the first period.
The hosts’ dominance of the ball didn’t fashion any clear-cut chances in the second quarter thanks to some resolute Holcombe defending, with the away side coming close to taking the lead through another quick counter-attack.
Bandurak played a brilliant long-ball to split the Southgate defence before Australian Jade van der Zwan crossed superbly to Ritchie, whose deflection dropped agonisingly wide of the far-post.
A few minutes later, Holcombe won their first penalty corner of the encounter, with a re-award given before Bandurak, who had played superbly up to that point, gave Holcombe the lead, finishing strongly past Bray on the stroke of half-time.
Quickly after half-time, the hosts found themselves with more work to do. An initial penalty corner led to another re-award, with Steele drag-flicking into the corner past Bray to double the advantage.
Holcombe had numerous other chances in the third quarter to add to their lead through Hannah Bond, Ritchie, Lottie Bingham and van der Zwan, though Southgate also could have reduced the arrears when former Holcombe player Charlotte Childs was denied by Woodhead.
Emma McIntyre’s goal in the fourth quarter made for a slightly nervy start, with Woodhead again called into action to deny the home side an equaliser but it was Holcombe who finished the match more strongly.
Bandurak was denied from a penalty corner late on before Bingham saw a chance saved on her debut, with Holcombe able to see out the final few minutes to hang on for three points on the opening day.
Lucas Ball - Holcombe Hockey Club