Penarth Hockey Club 1st XI continued their rapid rise up the UK ladder system with a win over Gloucester City on Saturday confirming a third successive promotion that will see the Bears playing just one step from the National League next season.
PENARTH 3-2 Gloucester City
Penarth hosted mid-table Gloucester City knowing that a win would mean another big step towards securing promotion to the Premiership – easily the highest echelon ever achieved by a Penarth side – but did so knowing that the absence of influential midfielder Ben Croxall would require a restructure of the team’s line-up and an unlikely repeat of earlier 9-2 victory over the border.
The game started well for the home side, with the reshuffled Penarth formation looking good in possession and playing the ball around at pace. With Gloucester conversely struggling to lay stick on ball for any length of time, it wasn’t long before the Bears went 1-0 up, with Laith El-Khatib peeling around his marker and firing past the visiting ‘keeper.
With their tails up and momentum on their side, it wasn’t long before the opening goal was followed by a second, this time after a fantastic team move, starting in defence and involving five players, set up Ollie Burland to score on his favoured reverse stick.
With Gloucester reeling from the one-two punch, Penarth continued to push forward, looking for a third goal that could effectively put the tie beyond doubt before the interval, but the home side’s eagerness occasionally left them exposed in defence, and the visitors needed no second bidding when rare pressure eventually produced a penalty corner from Penarth’s hasty defending. A creative set-piece routine left goalkeeper Scott Fulton-Brown with no chance to prevent Gloucester from pulling one back to leave the half-time scoreline 2-1 in Penarth’s favour, and the game still in the balance.
Determined not to let the opportunity to secure an early promotion slip through their fingers, the Bears came out strongly in the second period, and were rewarded with a third goal minutes into the half as Chris Baker beat several defenders before finding the back of the net. However, with other chances either going begging or being smothered by the Gloucester defence, Penarth were unable to widen the gap between the sides, keeping the assembled spectators on edge as the visitors continued to pose a threat.
Although Penarth’s bigger share of possession allowed them to continue pushing forward in search of a fourth goal to kill the game off, their play wasn’t as crisp as usual and Gloucester were always ready to capitalise on any breakdown. One such lapse of concentration in the home defence presented the English side with a penalty flick, the conversion of which, with Penarth needing every available point in pursuit of the divisional title, led to a nervous last five minutes for the Bears as they attempted to maintain their lead.
Although Gloucester had chances to threaten the Penarth goal, the home side managed to see out the game, with the 3-2 margin of victory adding both three points and an extra goal to the Bears’ league-leading goal difference, effectively securing promotion with three games to spare, barring a 24-goal swing in favour of their pursuers over the next couple of weeks.
Goalscorers: Laith El-Khatib, Ollie Burland, Chris Baker
Ashmoor 3-1 PENARTH
With Storm Emma and ‘The Beast from the East’ wiping out the previous weekend’s programme, all of Penarth’s four teams are facing a hectic end to the season, but the 1st XI also had the prospect of a trip to table-topping Ashmoor on Sunday to consider as they eyed not just promotion but a third straight divisional title to underline their ascent up the regional standings.
The game, postponed from the middle of January due to the host’s involvement in national indoor competition, had been widely tipped as a potential title decider, with Ashmoor holding the points advantage on paper, but the Bears possessing a crucial extra remaining fixture.
Penarth had hoped to rearrange the game for final weekend of the season, when they would already having been in the Exeter area for a scheduled fixture with Isca, to set up a real showdown, but league regulations stipulated an earlier trip south, and the timing could not have been worse for the Welsh side as they were forced to travel without several key players.
The game, perhaps expectedly in the circumstances, started with Ashmoor firmly on the front foot, dominating possession and pressing aggressively. Penarth, by contrast, were struggling to get into the game and it was no surprise when the younger home side eventually took the lead with just ten minutes on the clock.
Despite their title ambitions hanging in the balance, the Bears also made life even harder for themselves as poor discipline – a definite blot on an otherwise picturesque hockey landscape in 2017-18 – saw them playing no fewer than 14 of the 35 first half minutes with only ten men. As a result, the visitors had very few opportunities in attack and, despite gradually growing into the game, were relieved to make it to half-time trailing by just one goal.
Knowing that they needed to step things up if they were to keep a viable interest in the title race, Penarth came out fighting after the interval, looking to counter-attack at speed whenever the opportunity arose. Unable to convert the few chances that came their way, however, the Bears suffered a cruel blow when Ashmoor doubled their lead after finding a free man in the Penarth D. The second strike was quickly followed by a third as Penarth failed to heed the lesson, allowing an Ashmoor forward to deftly deflect a ball fired into the area past the hapless Fulton-Brown.
Despite holding the upper hand, Ashmoor’s players also found themselves consumed by the moment, and were forced to play with reduced numbers after a flurry of cards increased the population of the sin bin. The home side went down to nine men at one point, allowing Penarth to capitalise as Burland pulled one back with the skilful deflection of a good pass from Jack Jopson that made good the breakdown of a penalty corner but, despite the game flowing from end to end over the remaining ten minutes, there were no further goals, and Ashmoor ran out 3-1 winner to put one hand on the GoCrea8 Championship trophy.
Although Ashmoor remain in pole position, however, a slip-up in their final game against relegation-threatened Exeter University – allied to a brace of Penarth wins at Isca and Bath – mean that there is a lot still on the line for a Bears side that, with an under-strength line-up, refused to go down without a fight against the league leaders. Fate has also decreed that the Welsh side will see just how their rivals fare by following them on the schedule at the University playing fields this Saturday…
Goalscorers: Ollie Burland
Gloucester City ‘A’ 3-7 PENARTH ‘A’
The fixture schedule once again ensured that the Penarth and Gloucester clubs faced off in a double-header at the weekend, with the 2nd XI travelling to the Cotswolds to face their English counterparts. After a comfortable victory in the home leg, the Bears were also looking to put their away defeat to another De Cymru & The Marches 2 struggler, already relegated Aberystwyth University, in the past with a win that would ensure they remained in the top half of the table with two games remaining.
Once again, however, injuries and absences throughout the club meant that the side again travelled with a bare eleven players, ensuring a busy afternoon for skipper Andy Strong’s men.
With both teams setting out with very attacking formations, it didn’t take long for the goals to start flowing, Dave Watkins giving the visitors the lead early on with a reverse stick ‘tomahawk’ into the top corner. The first goal was soon followed by a second, Joe Wells pouncing on the rebound of a penalty corner to slap a pinpoint finish into the bottom corner. Unfortunately for Penarth, it was at the wrong end of the field and gifted Gloucester an equaliser.
Undeterred by this setback, the Bears soon restored their lead, with Sam Salisbury doing well to win a penalty corner that was subsequently converted by Strong for 2-1. Once more, though, the Welsh side proved incapable of holding onto their advantage, and the scores were level again soon after, with Gloucester scoring from another penalty corner that took a final touch off a Penarth stick to deflect the ball past a helpless Adam Putt.
The opening half seemed to be developing a pattern, with Penarth soon back in front, again via a Strong penalty corner conversion. Keen to break the rhythm of rise and fall, the Bears then extended their lead on the stroke of half time, with the captain completing a first period hat-trick by firing a drag flick into the roof of the net to send his side into the interval with a hard-earned 4-2 lead.
Penarth knew that, if they scored the next goal, they could effectively kill the game off early in the second period and wasted no time achieving that aim by making it 5-2 within 30 seconds of the restart. This time, Salisbury won a superb turnover on halfway and quickly found Sam Chick, who played a neat 1-2 with Watkins to round the last defender and ‘keeper before giving Chick a simple tap in.
The vice-captain added his second, and Penarth’s sixth, soon after, this time firing home from the edge of the D on his reverse stick, but the home side continued to play attacking hockey and, as the Bears pushed forward, caught the visitors on the break before firing a crisp strike into the bottom corner to again give Putt no chance. It was Penarth, however, who rounded off the scoring, as Watkins grabbed his second of the game after a Tom Griffiths drag flick was well saved by the Gloucester ‘keeper.
The Welsh side will face tougher tests in their final two games, as they host Wotton-under-Edge and Gwent in games that determine whether they finish in the top five and provide a firm foundation for a promotion push next season.
Goalscorers: Andy Strong (3), Dave Watkins (2), Sam Chick (2)
Cardiff Medics ‘A’ 2-0 PENARTH ‘B’
The 1st XI weren’t the only Penarth side that headed into the weekend with promotion ambitions, as the Thirds looked to capitalise on an unexpected, but hard-earned, opportunity to progress from De Cymru 2. Unfortunately for the Bears, however, intransigence and unavailability ensured that they went into a must-win encounter with second-placed Cardiff Medics shorn of several team regulars and, for much of the week, potentially without a goalkeeper.
Although Mark Drakeford solved the latter issue by bravely making himself available despite awaiting reconstructive knee surgery to resolve an injury suffered in service of the 4th XI before Christmas, it was a slightly unfamiliar Bears line-up that took the field for a late afternoon game that, with victory going their way, would put the hosting Medics out of reach of their Penarthian pursuers.
As in their two previous fixtures this season, the game started – and continued – with the home side dominating possession and forcing Penarth into a determined rearguard action to not only protect their goal, but also their goalkeeper. The seasoned combination of Graeme Jones, captain James Davies, Craig Llewellyn and Rob Harrison played their role almost to perfection, however and – even when Jones had to be temporarily replaced by Simon Wilkinson – kept Drakeford’s involvement to a minimum.
It was slightly unfortunate, therefore, when the students took the lead just before the half’s midpoint, a deft deflection putting a fiercely-struck cross beyond Drakeford’s reach to increase the mountain the Bears had to climb. The visitors, however, refused to fold and, sticking to their task at the back, began to create chances of their own, forcing the Medics ‘keeper into several saves as the first period ended with no addition to the scoreline.
Knowing that they needed nine points from their final three games to guarantee promotion, Penarth had little option but to throw men forward in the second period, but the Medics proved resistant to the threat, often breaking up possession before it could translate into opportunity. Although there were chances for the Bears, they were few and far between and, crucially, went unconverted, despite the best efforts of Kidby brothers Dave and James, and the industrious creative efforts of Richard Cousins and emerging youngster Lewis Ingram, who more than once embarrassed his older opponents with some canny stickwork.
Penarth’s increasingly desperate pursuit of an equaliser naturally had the consequent effect of leaving the defence open to attack, and the Medics put the game out of reach with a second goal ten minutes from the final whistle, again with the faintest of touches converting a ball fired into the D. With their midfield tiring, the Bears did well to limit further chances, with Drakeford, in particular, pulling off several saves that defied his medical concerns as the game ended in a disappointing, if still meritorious, 2-0 defeat that put promotion out of reach for another season.
PENARTH ‘C’ 0-3 Gwent ‘B’
The 4th XI entertained long-term rivals Gwent at Stanwell early on Saturday, with the visitors needing a win to maintain their promotion push from a closely-fought De Cymru 3 class and, as with all previous encounters in recent seasons, a good-spirited but fiercely-contested encounter was the order of the day.
With wing halves Elys Johnson and Rhys Meddins featuring prominently, and forwards Iwan Meddins, Gabriel Pryde, Greg Cross and Tom Lumsden a constant thorn in the visitors’ side, the only surprising thing was that the game reached the interval without a goal on the board.
The second half began much as the first had ended, with the elder Meddins and man-of-the-match Johnson continuing to threaten, so it was a cruel for a spot of luck to break the deadlock in Gwent’s favour when a clearance from centre back Ian Brookfield struck the foot of skipper Nick Pratt and deflected back into the C-siders’ goal. With the ball having been touched by a Gwent player in the D in the build up to the freak occurrence, the umpire had no option but to award a goal, leaving Penarth to bemoan their misfortune.
The home side’s performance dipped for a short while following the setback but, driven on by Richard Bromiley, they soon resumed their forward press in search of the equaliser their performance merited. It was further cruel fate, therefore, that saw Bromiley have to leave the pitch through injury, forcing a restructuring of the Penarth line-up and convincing Gwent that this was their day, the visitors eventually add another two goals to put the final result beyond doubt.
All four Penarth sides are in action during the coming week, with the 1st XI heading back to Exeter for their return match with Isca, before completing the season with a rearranged game against City of Bath on Tuesday night. The Seconds and Thirds thus provide the home entertainment, with back-to-back games against Wotton-under-Edge (1.45pm start) and Whitchurch (3.30pm start) respectively on Saturday, before the latter return to complete their season by hosting Bridgend (1.30pm start) on Sunday. The 4th XI, meanwhile, complete their season with a rearranged fixture at Bridgend this evening (Thursday) with fourth place in the table secured and having proved themselves more than competitive with the three sides above them.
Penarth Hockey Club always welcomes new, old and returning players, umpires, supporters, friends and helpers regardless of age and ability. Training takes place on Wednesdays at Stanwell School, with the juniors on the pitch between 6.15pm and 7.15pm and the seniors between 7.00pm and 8.15pm.
Anyone interested in joining the club at senior or youth level can contact club secretary Dave Stevens (email@example.com) for further information.