Monday, May 27, 2024

England Hockey League Finals: Hampstead & Westminster women edge East Grinstead in thriller

Surbiton — With 15 minutes left at a sultry Sugden Road, East Grinstead women were seemingly coasting into the Women’s Premier Division final. But two gifted moments by an otherwise championship-winning performance from EG put Hampstead & Westminster into Sunday’s title showdown against Surbiton.

First, Grace Balsdon handed Holly Hunt a shooting chance at the top of the circle in the dying embers of the third quarter before Joie Leigh slotted home a penalty stroke with three seconds left to level at 2-2. Miriam Pritchard then stepped up to save three in a row for the Londoners in the shoot-out. Cue H&W glee as Pritchard was engulfed.

“We’ve come such a long way as a team. If we were 2-0 down during the season we would have crumbled a bit. But the second half of the season we have rallied,” said H&W’s Sarah Robertson.

“We played well in the first half and to retain the confidence from that knowing there would be chances, we kept the belief and kept fighting. We knew we would have a few moments and we took them.

“We’ve been in the Prem for four seasons (finishing third, second, third) so we’ve been consistently up there but getting the balance right between international and club players is something we’ve had to work on. Now we’ve got a good vibe and bringing through other top quality who aren’t in the GB set up, balances it out.”

All this after Anna Faulstich and Sophie Bray had given the defending champions a two-goal cushion in the first quarter following an opening spell dominated by H&W. 

Falstich had latched on to a saved initial shot from Bray with a slotted reverse on the rebound. Four minutes later a pinpoint aerial from Alex Malzer into the circle found Bray, who controlled and expertly lobbed into the net.

EG were in control through the second quarter but the North Londoners rallied in the third. Pip Lewis went close, forcing a backhand save from Issy Field. 

Then, with 40 seconds left of the third, Balsdon messed up her free out and passed straight to Hunt, who dispatched a low forehand. 

The final 15 minutes proved a frantic affair, more so deep into the final stages. With 90 seconds left, H&W hit the post from top scorer Madi Ratcliffe. EG still had possession with seconds left before Balsdomn again found an opponent as H&W won a PC. Lily Walker saved on the line and Leigh pushed home her stroke. 

Step forward Pritchard in the shoot-out as H&W ralled again to win 3-2. “That was a big moment in her career,” added Robertson.

They will now play Surbiton, who will be out to regain their crown they have owned over the last decade.

Dave Beckett’s side prevailed over Wimbledon after first-half goals from Martha Taylor and Alice Sharp. Wimbledon made inroads in the second-half but didn’t have the firepower to threaten.

Total Hockey


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