Thriller of a contest leaves nerves shredded in M1 2-1 win over Sevenoaks

Match Report : Alastair Whatley

Result : WIN 2-1 vs Sevenoaks

Southgate v Sevenoaks – Men’s Hockey League Division 1 South at Southgate Hockey Centre, Trent Park, London, UK on 26 February 2022. Photo by Simon Parker/SP Action Images

After the triple whammy of storms Eunice, Francis and Francis’ hangover the calm descended over Trent Park on Saturday as the day gently bled into a beautiful spring like evening. The sky was almost threaten to turn red in a show of support (it got to at least a good orange) as the lights went on and the men in red and black ran out to cheers from the balcony to face off against the Sevenoaks team in white and purple.

It’s been a rough few weeks on the results front for the squad and there was real points pressure to avoid slipping into the relegation zone of Div 1 South so it was in a very real sense a crucial game. Yet the balcony anticipating Corney & Barrow (Mr Hargrove) sponsored port and cheese at the half time mark- was buoyant in mood  as the sun dipped and temperatures plummeted.

The whistle went, the ball pushed back and immediately Gate were on the front foot, Captain John Sterlini muscling his way onto the Sevenoaks D and fishing a ball across the goal mouth. The crowd almost cheered alas the ball sailed eastward ho to Oakwood tube. The game fizzed along with Sevenoaks immediately challenging our 23, Sam Weissen and Iain Gordon both manfully playing out of position at centre back who were under pressure from the Sevenoaks press from the off but continually found a release out to Robbie Gill on the left and Louie Sadler on the right.

Savas Hadjigeorgiou in goal was showing off his naked arms to the admiration of the Southgate home support as he was launched into the fray with a succession of saves as Sevenoaks exerted some strong pressure. Yet Southgate began building from the back with some early balls, Matt Anderson and Johnny Maunder providing solid support in the middle and within 6 minutes of PB Gate had their first penalty corner pushed out by Guilio, stopped by Sam and flicked by Maunder forcing the first save of the game from the Sevenoaks keeper.

Two minutes later though and the crowd felt their heart rates ratchet up a notch as the boot was passed to the other foot and the white and purple men stood top D for their first PC, another strong flick but a great save from Savas to his bottom right meant that the ball from the D sailed clear as the score remained 0-0.

The opening exchanges went back forth with an edgy ebb and flow until a contested aerial was put into the Gate D which led to an equally contested PC being given but then overruled in no small part due to the helpful assistant umpires on the balcony…

Another build from Sevenoaks a few minutes later saw Savas called into action again with a strong ball put into the D from the right channel which found a canny Sevenoaks stick but also an even cannier Savas boot yet but just seconds later another PC was awarded and this time it stuck. The flicker this time decided to go right and yet again it found the menace of the Savas glove.

Harry Haynes subbed on at 14:12 and alas yet another Sevenoaks PC followed which in yet another variation was slipped left and flicked right but again came the gloved hand of Savas parrying the shot back into the melee of shirts and into the foot of a Gate defender. So followed the fourth PC of the half for Sevenoaks, this time it went low but a long way left and somehow the score remained 0-0 as the first quarter came to an end and dusk fell on Trent Park.

The second quarter saw the balcony really find its voice as the February night crept in around the edges of the pitch, a tussle of turnover and tactics ensued some five minutes elapsed in a tectonic battle of two teutonic forces. 

Southgate was holding out for a hero and soon they got one in the form of the mighty Sim Bird.

A Sevenoaks 16 was unable to escape the clutches of the Gate press as Rob Schilling ran down their centre back, the ball bounced and fell neatly to the stick of our captain John Sterlini who saw Sim man marked by no less than two ‘Oaks players on the top edge of the D. John fired in the ball to the top left of the D which was picked up like Barleycorn by Sim and flipped to his reverse and despite being surrounded on all sides he got a shot away which laced itself past the flailing keeper and thudding hard against the backboard. An absolute scorcher and the balcony roared its approval. 1-0 to the Gate. And so it remained until half time.

At this juncture we should also doff our caps to Southgate top umpire RBL who was persuaded to vacate the bar and become Southgate’s match manager for the afternoon allowing Simon P to take the match day pictures. RBL said the team had never lost when he was on the bench. Which rather cursed it.

The third quarter began with a whistle and Southgate seemed in control from the get-go, two early PC’s were well won but didn’t find their target- Sevenoaks number 1 running proving effective. Sevenoaks responded with a well worked sequence down the right but unlike Old Cranlieghans attack last week- ‘Oaks lacked the clinical finish and the reverse strike that followed went hard and high over the Southgate goal. 1-0 it remained.

Working out from the back Sam freed himself from the Sevenoaks press and cleared it to Giulio in the middle who found John limbering up on the right hand side of the half way line, Charles Hamilton drew his marker right and Harry Haynes led the same way shipping his man as John, threading the ball through the eye of the proverbial needle, delivered a ball with biblical accuracy to Harry who received it nicely took it wide towards the goal-line as Charles led back in towards the P spot at the pace of a tiger – alas Harry’s ball back intercepted at the last moment. A superb sequence of play from the team all the same. The quarter ended with the score still 1-0 with chances coming at both ends.

The tension on the balcony was by this time palpable, the Will Hargrove sponsored Port and Cheese by now a distant after-thought as all eyes were glued to the action on the pitch. Gate came out strongly with two hard attacks right and left stretching the Sevenoaks back line but not breaking them. Sevenoaks retaliated with their own attacks, twice balls-in being deflected just wide of the Southgate goal.

The first PC of the final quarter landed to Southgate and it was injected with vigour by Guilio, stopped by Sam, flicked by Maunder, deflected back off the Sevenoaks runner and then shipped left by Maunder again to the stick of Sim who swept hard and low as sweet chariots of joy erupted from the crowd as sound of ball on board echoed around Trent Park. 2-0 and surely the balcony could relax.

Yet we breathed too soon as Sevenoaks came back hard with several foiled attacks, Iain Gordon playing rock like in the vanguard of our defence helped whether the storm. Gate countered with a run down the left put through to Harry Haynes on the p-spot forcing a good save from their keeper but the score remained 2-0. 5 minutes to play.

Another ‘Oaks attack this down their right forced a congested and subsequently contested call from the umpire resulting in a PC awarded and this time they slipped hard left and alas the low ball defeated Savas who saw the ball past his feet and into the Gate goal. 2-1. Just 4 minutes to play.

There were shivers of foreboding on the balcony, the previous game to Oaks had been lost in the very last minute and history was clearly close to repeating itself once again as Sevenoaks grabbed the advantage and came at Southgate with all they had. Within another minute another PC had been awarded to Sevenoaks and silence descended all around, even the birds and the distant traffic faded into zen like noiseless wonder. Yet Oaks tried the same trick again as Matt Allister ran down their flicker like a gazelle forcing a bodged shot and a Savas save and a roar of relief from the crowd. Surely the agony would end and the game would soon be Gate’s.

But no. Just one minute from time a further PC came to add insult to injurious nervous energy, once more hush abounded as Matt A rushed hard propelled on by passion and a thirst for victory as he clattered their runner and the ball repelled out of the D to safety.

Just twenty seconds later the ball crept into the Gate half and with that the final whistle went and to all the world it was like winning the cup final, at least for a few moments. The team had held on. Not the prettiest of wins, but a win all the same, and 3 points have never felt so good.

Thanks to Nairn Guilbert who came to run the bench and of course to RBL the lucky charm who made it 3 wins from 3 as bench warmer. 

Big game this weekend against Canterbury where we look to exact some revenge from Novembers defeat at Polo Farm. Come on down and cheer on the boys.