Investec Women’s National Premier League
Holcombe HC 3-1 University of Birmingham HC
Scorers: Holcombe HC: Ellie Watton (x3)
UoBHC: Amy Costello
Holcombe Park, Rochester
After conceding a last-minute equalizer away at Bowdon Hightown last weekend, Holcombe women returned home to face a stricken University of Birmingham side.
With England U21’s departing for Chile ahead of their Junior World Cup campaign, the University side was missing no less than 9 players as they made the long trip south to Holcombe Park.
Driven by recent results and the desire to stay in touch with double-champions Surbiton, Holcombe were buoyed by the return to fitness of talismanic midfielder Sarah Jones after picking up a hamstring injury in Manchester last weekend.
The home side took control from the first whistle, out-letting with pace and intensity, winning themselves an early penalty corner. With the ball striking a Birmingham player on the line, Captain Steph Elliott stepped up to take the subsequent penalty stroke.
Looking to go low to the goalkeepers’ right, the ball missed the target to allow an early reprieve for the visiting side.
Olympic gold medallist Lily Owsley looked a constant threat down the left flank throughout the opening exchanges for the University side but it was a driving run from Holcombe’s Erin Hunter that earned another penalty corner in the 8th minute.
With the initial injection off target, Leigh Maasdorp gathered the second phase to fire the ball towards the back post for an unmarked Ellie Watton to capitalise on the home sides’ early dominance.
University of Birmingham sprung into life and began to wrestle back some momentum from going a goal behind. A prolonged period of pressure lead to consecutive corners that were comfortably dealt with by the Holcombe defence.
Some last-ditch tacking from vice-captain Leah Wilkinson provided some respite for Grace Lawes in the Holcombe goal as the students created a number of openings.
Almost against the run of play, another driving run from Hunter down the left flank opened up a chance to shoot on the reverse stick. With Watton lurking in front of goal, the ball found its’ way to her through a crowd of bodies and she duly dispatched her second of the game 20 minutes in.
Holcombe still looked unsettled at the back as they gifted Katelyn Aitchison a glorious chance to halve the deficit but she couldn’t convert from close range with Lawes on the floor.
In clinical fashion, Holcombe went straight into the Birmingham circle and, after stealing the ball in a close contest, Watton fired home her third on the reverse stick to complete her hat-trick 5 minutes before half time.
With a 3 goal cushion at half time, it would appear that a routine second half would see the home side over the line but in truth it was anything but.
With Holcombe careless on the ball and making a plethora of unforced errors, the visitors were gifted a foothold in the game. Owsley continued to threaten and the Birmingham back-line, led by the commanding Rebecca Condie, were able to progress further and further up the pitch.
15 minutes into the half and the University of Birmingham earned a penalty corner. In the aftermath, Leigh Maasdorp was sent to the sin-bin for dissent and Holcombe faced a period of playing with 10.
Amy Costello converted the corner from a straight strike to set up a tense final 20 minutes. A number of chances went begging for the visitors and as the time began to wind down, Holcombe wrestled back some momentum to advance up the pitch and control the final period of play, securing a valuable 3 points that sees them return to second in the table.
“After quite an even first half, we were just thankful that we were able to convert our chances to give ourselves a cushion at the break,” said Holcombe Captain Steph Elliott. “We know that we can’t afford a performance like the second half again if we want to compete in this league but thankfully we were able to get the job done in the first 35 minutes. It’s all-eyes to next weekend now and we’re looking forward to the challenge of going to the Champions and producing a performance and result to be proud of.”
Next week sees Holcombe travel to double-champions and current Premier League leaders Surbiton, who sit just 3 points ahead of them in the table in their final game before the indoor season begins.
Image Credit: Steve Grout