Friday, July 1, 2022

Rampant Wimbledon race to first national title at England Hockey Super 6s

COPPER BOX ARENA — Talk about fine lines in indoor hockey. With 90 seconds left of the men’s Super 6s semi-final, the season’s top scorer, Surbiton’s Jamie Golden, broke clear, swiveled and punished East Grinstead on the break. Surbiton were seconds from the final.

Then came the late show from the perennial indoor champions, Niall Stott scoring and his side holding out from a PC, with five seconds left. It was Golden who, some time later, missed Surbiton’s final shoot-out effort as the boisterous West Sussex faithful erupted.

Should Surbiton have prevailed here after a 5-5 epic, they would certainly have been favourites against Wimbledon, who were good value for their semi-final win over Hampstead & Westminster. Yet, this Wimbledon side, twice beaten semi-finalists on Finals Day, have turned into a slick, well-drilled machine under coach Karl Stagno.

It took until the end of the first quarter for the final to usher in the first goal thanks to a swift breakaway finish from Ben Francis. But who knew then that this would turn into one of the biggest victories – 11-1 – of recent times as Wimbledon won their first national indoor title and a place in Europe.

The road to this one-way procession was further ramped up by Duncan Scott, who slotted home moments into the second quarter before dangerman Liam Ansell netted from a penalty stroke seconds later.

A third in less than two minutes either side of the hooter put Wimbledon in the driving seat.

And how. Breaking down the right, Evan Kimber was nearing and weaving his way towards the baseline before somehow seeing space above the goalkeeper and netting with a lofted, sublime finish to make it four. It was some goal.

A 15th national title for EG was now turning into an uphill battle, more so after a missed penalty stroke from East Grinstead’s Kyle White. An unrelenting Wimbledon took the game from the 2018 and 2019 champions with a quick-fire double in the third quarter through Francis and Kimber, a former Loughborough student.

Six goals to the good with one quarter remaining. Yet, this never felt like a cakewalk at the Copper Box. “We had to play through until the end of the game,” admitted Kimber afterwards. “EG are such a prestigious side that we had to be on guard.”

Still, victory looked all but assured, so too a fifth win against EG in five meetings stretching back to 2017; this after five further goals for Stagno’s side in the last 10 minutes – Richard Lane scoring EG’s sole goal – as the lively Kimber netted his hat-trick, along with Francis. There were late strikes too for Rhys Smith and Peter and Duncan Scott.

Kimber, a 23-year-old editorial assistant at a science journal, is now off to Europe in his second season at the club.

Such will be their wait – they will be England men’s club representative in 2023 – that Kimber admitted that European qualification hadn’t crossed his mind as the team set about celebrating their triumph down to the pub on Sunday.

Kimber did, though, hail coach Stagno as a “tactical magician”. And what now for this young, eager group? “We have aspirations and I’m really glad for the boys. We were firing on all cylinders.”

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