Almost. Southgate M5s came agonisingly close to finishing the season with an unlikely late comeback against new rivals West Hampstead, in a hard fought and good natured game against strong opposition.
With a few regulars missing, including captain Dave, the team welcomed Alex Hyer back to the side, along with the experience and nous of Titans Greg, Ben and Brian. After stand in skipper Mat took the team on a quick lap of the school car park, the M5s found a nice spot nestled between the table tennis tables and the bins for a thigh burning session of Brian led yoga stretches. With a few pre-match warnings about the strength of the opposition, and a need for more diligent marking at the back (following some recent sloppiness caught on the Southgate water pitch cameras), the Mighty 5s took to the pitch for the final game of the season.
West Hampstead started on the front foot, but were kept at bay for the first 10 minutes by some well organised defending and crucial interventions by Scott, Saj and Sam. The pressure told before too long, as the ball agonisingly evaded a Southgate stick during a frantic scramble in the D, the home side converted to take the lead.
West Hampstead 1-0 Southgate
Southgate heads didn’t drop, as there was enough evidence in the opening exchanges to suggest we were actually capable of some decent hockey. With the inside left and right midfielders Joe and Fergus instructed to help out the full backs, combined with some quick transfers around the back, Southgate began to make inroads into the opposition half and apply some pressure of our own. Brian’s neat play down the right was causing the the home side issues, and forwards Greg, Zac, James and Alex led the line well, winning a few penalty corners smartly.
With half-time approaching and Southgate playing well, Mat decided it was about time for a big old risky diagonal across the pitch. West Hampstead won the resulting 50-50, and to their credit, ruthlessly finished the break with black shirts streaming forward in numbers.
West Hampstead 2-0 Southgate – Half time
Despite the score, the vibe was positive at half-time, as we acknowledged we were doing the basics pretty well and had just been punished by a good team.
We started the 2nd half by quickly forgetting those basics, and deciding Hollywood passes were now the order of the day. West Hampstead duly took the initiative, but were somewhat fortuitous to be awarded a Penalty Corner early in the 2nd half for an offence spotted by the umpire. Following some polite inquiries from the defence, the decision stood, and a strong drag flick made its way into the Southgate side netting.
West Hampstead 3-0 Southgate
As Southgate pushed bodies forward in search of a goal, the game shifted from a structured battle into a loose and frenetic affair. Southgate probed around the West Hampstead D, with some skilful work by Zac creating a 2 on 1 against the keeper, but before being able to finish he was frustratingly awarded a Penalty corner instead. West Hampstead meanwhile looked menacing on the break, creating overload after overload against an attack minded Southgate. Sam did well to keep them out, needing to be quick off his line on multiple occasions. At one point the game looked to be over as West Hampstead rounded the keeper after yet another quick counter attack, with Mat being forced into a full stretch diving save on the line to tip the ball around the post, as the striker’s shot looked certain to make it 4.
With the clock ticking, some excellent distribution from Raj and advanced CB Scott in the middle helped Southgate keep the pressure on at the other end. Greg latched onto a through ball on the right hand side of the D, and as the ball moved further to the right the angle to goal looked to have narrowed too much. This was Greg though, so we needn’t have worried. A sweet strike across the keeper made its way into the far corner of the goal, with the delightful sound of the thudding backboard signalling the game wasn’t quite over yet.
West Hampstead 3-1 Southgate
As the umpire told us there were 8 minutes remaining, and Raj confusingly deciding now was the time to berate the team, we nevertheless pressed again. It was Raj who proved pivotal, picking the ball up outside the West Hampstead D, and playing a slightly lifted through ball to James, who pushed the ball left around the keeper and coolly slotted home on the reverse from the narrow angle.
West Hampstead 3-2 Southgate
With just 5 minutes left, and the home side rattled, suddenly Southgate had a spring in their step, as what had seemed impossible just minutes ago was suddenly within grasp. We pinged the ball about looking for the opening, and threatened the West Hampstead D. Time, however, wast just not on our side. With the home side understandably in no rush to take their 16s and sideline balls, Southgate were unable to create that one last opportunity needed for a famous comeback.
On balance, the home side were good value for the 3 points, but the M5s showed good spirit and determination to keep working until the final whistle when it would have been easier for heads to drop. Saj took MOM for a composed performance at full back, and holding his own against a quick, physical winger who would have caused us more problems were it not for Saj’s multiple interventions.