For the fourth year in a row (take a bow John) Southgate U16 Girls reached the National Finals to be played in early April at Wakefield Hockey Centre. A dramatic day of Regional Qualifying for two Pools concluded at 7.45pm on Sunday with the Southgate Girls defeating Canterbury in a game delayed by terrible traffic conditions on the M25 earlier in the day. The day started with mutterings about Southgate being drawn in the ‘Group of Death’ including Harleston Magpies, Canterbury and St Albans, whilst the other Pool looked, and proved to be, more straightforward for Cambridge against Old Loughts, and Chelmsford (teams Southgate beat comfortably in the Group stages) as well as Hertford.
Southgate were due to kick-off their campaign against Canterbury at 12.30 but with the Dartford Crossing closed due to the high winds traffic chaos prevented them from arriving at Trent Park in time. Our team had to kick their heels for another two hours before, due to the delay, with their first game now against St Albans who had been soundly beaten 6-0 by the Magpies in the opening game of the group. When they were finally able to get going the Southgate Girls came out of the blocks on fire going into a 3-0 lead within 10 minutes. Ultimately their 8-0 victory in this game was crucial as Goal Difference was to play a significant part in the final outcome. The pick of the goals came from Maddie Axford with a sizzling reverse into the top corner, of the goal, Hannah Kilpatrick’s short corner flick into the roof of the net, and Ella Sherring’s deft deflection from Megan Langley’s incisive pass.
With Harleston Magpie’s beating Canterbury by a single goal the next game for the girls against them became key to the outcome of the group. Harleston boasted a strong team with several players who had featured against the Ladies 1’s in the National League. In a tense, goalless, encounter neither team could break the other down. Harleston played the ball long and relied on the break whilst Southgate preferred short passing and patient build up. Southgate shaded the chances but it took two outstanding saves by Chaela Lambrias, and some brilliant defending by Megan, Hannah and Hermione Kay to prevent the Magpies stealing a crucial win.
So the equation was that any win over Canterbury would see the Girls qualify thanks to the two additional goals Southgate grabbed against St Albans in that first game. The push back was at 6.30pm once all other action in the other Pool had concluded. The weather decided it would now throw everything at both teams, wind, hail, rain and snow, but ultimately it proved to be probably the most entertaining and high quality game of the day. It was clear from the outset that it would take a great Canterbury effort to deny Southgate as the team started in high tempo fashion creating several chances. Scarlet Spavin was having an outstanding game controlling the centre of midfield and releasing Maddie and Ella to cause chaos in the very well drilled Canterbury defence. Hattie Shrimpton, and Clara Mee were finding space upfront and Canterbury were leading a charmed life until Maddie broke the deadlock from close range. Within a couple of minutes Ella released Maddie on a trademark run and she put Southgate 2 up before half time. Canterbury continued to play with spirit and great skill but the Southgate defence had been resolute all day and they were determined not to buckle now. A mention for Hallie Copping-Jones, in an unfamiliar defence role, who was detailed to mark Canterbury’s very talented winger and neutralised her threat throughout the game. It was still tense on the balcony until Kiera Murphy fed Ella the ball in the inside right position and she drove into the D before dispatching an unstoppable shot inside the near post to settle the outcome.
A fantastic achievement for the girls to not only qualify but do so against very good opposition without conceding a goal. Congratulations to the entire squad who all played their part and to John who continues to develop teams at U16 level who play terrific team based hockey with real confidence.
Thanks to Richard Mee and Sheila Langley for all their help in managing the team and of course to Liz who did an unbelievable job in co-ordinating 8 teams, two competitions, a full clubhouse, dodgy parking from a number of visitors, and ensuring an ambulance could gain access to attend an unfortunate Chelmsford player who was concussed during a game. If the girls were tired Liz must have been exhausted!