Southgate Hockey Club’s Under 18 Girls clinched the National Championship at Nottingham in dramatic style on Sunday. England Hockey’s determination to finish the Championships suspended due to the Lockdown period was rewarded with two days of excellent hockey finals in good weather at the weekend. Southgate’s U18 Girls interrupted journey to the final had seen them drawn away in every round going back to last November. On the road they had knocked out a number of fancied teams such as perennial favourites Surbiton in February and a strong Bournemouth team last Monday in the Semi Final.
In the Final on Sunday they met Repton, the game was the most dramatic of Finals weekend and ended up going to a shootout after a 1-1 draw in normal time. As with any game billed as being between two ‘free-scoring teams’ it was a cagey affair with few chances. The two highly skilled and athletic teams found resolute defences on top and both goalkeepers in marvellous form. The styles were contrasting as well, Repton were all power and direct play, Southgate were a model of the club philosophy playing the ball out from the back quickly and simply, using the midfield, and showing patience for the right opportunity to attack.
The best chances in the first half fell to Southgate with Lucy Leel and Sofia Martin going closest, but it still took a good stop from Zara Rose in goal just before half time to keep the game scoreless. In the second half Southgate turned on the style and began to dominate. After 15 minutes of the second half they took the lead when Hannah Kilpatrick released England U18 Captain Maddie Axford to power into the D, round the goalkeeper and from a wide angle fire the ball, on the stretch, into the goal. For the next 10 minutes Southgate threatened a second but as time ran out gradually the finish line saw them tighten up and allow Repton back into the game. With 4 minutes remaining Axford received a very harsh five-minute sin bin yellow card which meant they’d have to try and hold out with 10 players. The pressure was intense and Repton hit a post, but it seemed Southgate were going to weather the storm when another controversial Umpiring decision gave Repton a free hit on the edge of the D. The ball was moved into the D from where Eleanor Barlow managed to roll the ball past a wrong-footed Zara Rose in the Southgate goal. There was less than 90 seconds on the clock which was heart-breaking at the time.
Anyone who witnessed GB Hockey ladies victory in the Rio Olympics will know how nerve-racking Shootouts are, and this shoot-out was as dramatic as they come. Axford and Lucy Leel traded goals with Swann and Barlow from Repton to make it 2-2 after 4 shootouts. Then Ella Sherring and Hannah Kilpatrick, who had both had fine games in the Southgate midfield, were unfortunate to miss with Repton missing the one in between them. However, Repton’s 4th shootout was fortunate to deflect off Rose and loop into the net. This all meant that Robyn Hodges, who had been a defensive rock throughout the game, had to score to keep the Final alive. This she did channelling her best Hollie Webb impression. Pressure back on Repton with the opportunity to win, but by now Rose in the Southgate goal was in her element. She refused to commit herself making the attacker try and find a way around and as soon as she made one error Rose was able to flick the ball to safety. So now sudden death with the takes coming from the original 5 from each side. Axford went first for Southgate but she was forced wide a missed. Rose, once again given the job of keeping the game alive, stood up and managed to block the Repton attempt from Imogen Swann. Lucy Leel was next for Southgate and she made it look easy as she danced around the Repton keeper to give Southgate back the lead. Now all the pressure was on Eleanor Barlow of Repton. Barlow drove into the D and turned her back before moving to the left before shooting, Rose parried, Barlow scrambled and hit it only for Rose to parry again, and then tried a desperate chip which the Southgate hero clawed away to win the game.
This victory hasn’t happened by chance and Southgate Girls Junior teams have been regular qualifiers for finals weekends at U14 and U16 over the last few years. The excellent coaching and development has brought through many very good young players and also attracted a number of talented players to join over the years. U18 Coach Grant Homann has overseen a number of league wins in the past couple of seasons and also landed the 2019 National Indoor Championship, but this is the biggest title the Junior section as captured for a number of years.