After finishing second in the Yorkshire Youth Hockey League, the U14 boys (including 2 girls) travelled to Halifax on what turned out to be a very cold and wet Sunday afternoon.
The eight teams had been split into two mini leagues with the top two in each league contesting a knockout semi-final and final. All games were a 25 minutes with no half time.
Squad: Aidan Hopkinson, Alex King, Elliott Golding, Hannah Field, Isaac Fisher (C), Jessica Buttery, Luke Gueli, James Higgins, Matthew Feather, Matthew Stacey, Mayank Gupta, Ralph Toon (GK), Robert Cann, Rowan Tejura & Tom Pitchforth.
Slazenger 1 – 0 Doncaster
Slazenger dominated the game from the start, stringing together passes and making scoring opportunities, particularly down the right wing with Matthew Stacey and Luke Gueli linking well to repeatedly get in behind the Doncaster defence. It was from one of these passing moves that Isaac Fisher opened the scoring after 9 minutes. Although Slazenger continued to dominate and make chances, we were not able to capitalize as Robert Cann, Tom Pitchforth and Hannah Field all had shots just wide or saved by the keeper. Doncaster rarely threatened to score with James Higgins and Matthew Feather holding the back line expertly and Ralph Toon dealing with any half chances that were made.
Slazenger 1 – 1 Harrogate
While Slazenger sheltered in the clubhouse, Harrogate were defeated 2 – 0 by Thirsk, so it was against the odds and the run of play when Harrogate were awarded a penalty flick after 9 minutes. The flick was expertly taken, just beating Ralph low on his left to give Harrogate an unexpected lead. However, Slazenger did not panic but continued to play flowing hockey, again creating scoring opportunities, including several short corners without getting on the score sheet. With less than a minute to go and coaches and parents alike getting more than a little concerned, Rowan Tejura followed up an Isaac Fisher shot from a short corner to drive the ball home and keep the team’s chances of progressing to the knockout stage alive.
Slazenger 1 – 0 Thirsk
Going into the final game level on points with Thirsk, both teams needed a win to ensure progression to the knockout stage. The game was more evenly match than either of the previous two with both teams playing some excellent hockey which clearly impressed all those watching, including Phil Thomas (Chair of YYHL) and the professional umpires. It was not until the eighteenth minute that Slazenger found a way through the well disciplined Thirsk defence, Aidan Hopkinson slotting the ball through a crowded circle to Matthew Stacey who had got behind the goalkeeper to coolly slot home the only goal of the game.
Finishing top of the group earned Slazenger a semi-final showdown against local rival Rotherham.
Slazenger 2 -0 Rotherham
With sights firmly set on a final place, even a switch to the more lively ‘A’ pitch did not put Slazenger off their stride as they dominated Rotherham from the start. The forwards again created plenty of goal scoring chances, so when Matthew Stacey picking up an Isaac Fisher pass, found the net for the second time in two games Slazenger had a well deserved lead. With legs beginning to tire, all the squad played their part in a fine display of team hockey. In particular Jessica Buttery, making her first start of the day, stamped her authority on the right half position, tackling and distributing well to turn defence into attack. Meanwhile, Elliott Golding turned in an outstanding display on the left wing for a player in only his second tournament. Relentless Slazenger pressure was rewarded as Rowan Tejura scored from a broken down short corner 17 minutes into the game. Rotherham never looked likely to get back into the game, setting up a final against favorites and YYHL champions Ben Rhydding.
Slazenger 2 – 1 Ben Rhydding
If Ben Rhydding were expecting to lift the trophy for the forth time in five years, they had not counted on a Slazenger team now playing as a unit, working off the ball and communicating as if they were on a training ground with Steve Wood. Taking the game to the opposition, Slazenger had the best of the opening 10 minutes, even with Isaac sitting out the first 5 minutes.
With Ben Rhydding’s defence being forced to really work for the first time in the day, Slazenger were awarded a series of four short corners which finally resulted in Rowan Tejura scoring his third goal of the day (and the season) with 12 minutes on the clock. Ben Rhydding responded by pressing hard for an equalizer but even though they had already scored 15 goals on the day, they were unable to find a way through to seriously challenge Ralph Toon’s goal.
Again, frequent substitutions played as part as both teams began to tire and it was good to see players stepping into unfamiliar positions and playing their part. After absorbing a lot of pressure, including two outstanding short corner defences from Isaac, Slazenger began to take control again, working the play into the Ben Rhydding shooting circle again and again. With just under 20 minutes on the clock, the ball came to Aidan Hopkinson in the circle. Seeing his route to goal blocked, he used 3D skills to beat the closest defender before flicking the ball into the top corner of the net to give Slazenger a 2 – 0 lead.
Again Ben Rhydding responded by throwing everything they had got at our defence, eventually pulling a goal back with 2 minutes remaining from a very well struck short corner that gave Ralph no chance. If any of the Slazenger players were tired, you would never have known as they worked to deny the ball to the opposition, closing them down quickly and it was appropriate the Slazenger were mounting yet another attack down the right wing when the final whistle was blown.
Overall, this was a team performance making it really difficult to pick out any particular players. However, John and I agree that both Matthew Feather and Matthew Stacey deserve to share man of the tournament for their consistent performances in defence and on the right wing respectively. The most improved player was a little easier to choose thanks to an outstanding performance from Elliott Golding.
A big thank you to John Toon for his help yesterday and throughout the season and to our loyal band of followers who once again proved that they are the most supportive supporters in the league. A special mention to Phillip Higgins for warming up the team without being asked (see you on the training field next season!) and to Belinda who turned up from nowhere to look after the boy’s kit in appalling conditions. Thanks also to Steve Wood for his expert coaching and to the Ladies 1st IX for being out sparring partners.
Well done to all the boys who played for the U14 team this season, we couldn’t have got to the play-offs without you.
Finally, congratulations to all the squad. You thoroughly deserved to win yesterday.