The last match of the mini round-robin stage saw a full strength Saffron Walden face South for a chance to see the final placings in the group. Could South overcome the side that scored Double figures past them in the league stage? Maybe, after a decent intervention.
Nev Warren had got the previous game wrong tactically. He had over-thought and been possibly negative to the massive detriment of the team. He gathered his troops and garnered opinion as how to move forward. The Christmas Tree was no more! Bring on the the 5-on-dice!
Saffron Walden had drawn with the Perse Staff 3-3 and were probably unlucky not to win that game. They went into this game needing a 3-goal win to take top spot. It may have been unhelpful that George and Nev misled them when asked what the previous game's result was. 4-4 it wasn't!
Saffron started brightly and played with the lion's share of possession for the majority of the first half. They scored from an open play shot that was rifled in low. The fact that they were limited to speculative balls into the circle for their forwards to deflect wide can be testament to the resolute and defensive play of the South team as a unit! South stayed with their tricky opponents and knocked the wind out of their sails when Harry Lewis pounced to equalise. South came to the change-around almost bouncing. Walden looked as if they had just lost.
South continued the second half the way they finished the first half. Alex Baekelandt was imperious at the back, with George T in nets denying short corners through solid defending. A quick break involving James Mathews and Ollie Lamming allowed Harry the chance to punish their defence again. 2-1 to the good guys with 6 minutes to go!
6 minutes of rear-guard defence, coupled with counter-attacking brilliance, meant that South ran the clock down seamlessly. All of a sudden, the season had been turned on its head and the win-less side from Long Road had notched up a big "W" when it mattered. South had in one action bettered their placing and performance by two places from the previous season. What lay ahead was a Perse U18 side that had narrowly won in the regular season. A Bronze medal was in sight!
Round Robin Group B
South have excelled and out-performed their best efforts in finals night so far. After a match off to rest, the third place playoff was due to commence with an improving South playing against a young Perse Under 18s. Last season's Perse side had been to the national schools finals and had beaten South convincingly, nine-nil. Their 2017-18 version were not as dominant in their five-three victory in the regular season. Could the most rapidly improving team finally overcome the youngsters? South lined up with a swagger in their step. It wasn’t overconfidence, but a realisation that they could live with the better teams and were not out of place at the top. They knew their defensive duties and how important each other were. They lined up as below:
GK George Toynton
RB Alex Baekelandt LB Nev Warren
RM Ali Edge/James Mathews LM Oli Lamming
CF Harry Lewis
South set about stifling with their defence and breaking quickly to good effect. The team allowed Perse to have the ball and knock it around. The front three worked their socks off and were interchanging every three minutes to allow tired legs some respite. Perse made some decent breaks down their right flanks but were unable to squeeze the ball past Oli Lamming and James Mathews.
Alex Baekelandt had already decided that Nev Warren had not done enough running during the tournament and set about addressing this problem. Whenever the indoor captain was nicely edging forward in anticipation of an attack, Alex decided to make him sprint backwards to collect his pass. A time delaying tactic for game management? Did Alex think that a solitary goal would be enough to defend? Who knows? The half finished on a high note as Harry Lewis stepped up and scored his first of the night. Perse were noticeably stunned and winded.
Perse started the second half with a goalie but had plans to swap for the sixth outfield player early on so that they might catch the South team unawares and change up the plan. They swapped carefully after a minute and tried to use the extra man to force the equaliser. South were not fazed by the extra player's introduction. They instead quickened their counters, pushed their extra man back and made them scared to push forward. More resolute defending and a series of fine gloved saves meant that there would be no bad end to the fairytale. Seven torturous minutes of attritional hockey later, South were the recipients of the bronze medal.
Keeping a clean sheet in any indoor game is a remarkable feat. Although the outfield players were splendid in restricting the number of short corners and chances that were created, a special mention needs to go to goalie, George Toynton. Despite amusing us all by allowing the inner workings of his mind to be shared on a frequent basis, George played at a very high level during the last two games. He effectively kept a clean sheet for twenty-four minutes (Three halves of play). This was the only clean sheet of the night and one of only two during the whole 2017-18 regular season. Well done, George and co.!
Lastly, thanks go out to other players throughout the season who have contributed, like Tijs, Jim Hockley, Chris Pearson, Owen Harrison and Shin Kim. We plan to try and book some sessions at the Perse/Long Road next season on a pay and play basis. If anyone has experience and would like to join in then please let your captain or Nev Warren know! Well done this year folks… Silverware next year?
1st Cambridge City HC
2nd Perse Staff
3rd CAMBRIDGE SOUTH HC
4th Perse Under 18s
5th Saffron Walden HC
6th Cambridge Nomads HC
The end of season indoor play-offs came with an exciting change to the format, allowing each side a chance of winning the championship. South finished bottom of the league in the 2016-17 season by winning a solitary game and lost the 5th/6th place play-off to finish the lowest. Would this season be any different? South had again finished bottom and winless despite playing better hockey and losing games narrowly. Could finals night be the catalyst for the results to change? Read on!
Captain Nevin Warren had small squad of seven South indoor players to go into the marathon three games of finals night. Although the games were only effectively half a regulation game at 8 minute halves, the stop-start fashion and tighter scored games would mean the intensity would be higher than before. One substitute in the squad is not ideal for the attrition that lay ahead. South set-up for the start and ahead of them lay the 2nd best regular season side Perse Staff. Game on!
The Captain's decision to start with an unfamiliar Christmas tree formation in order to stifle the front three was in hindsight an awful one! Perse staff regularly made advances into the circle and it was only the advent of goal line clearances from Oliver "Wizard" Lamming and saves from George Toynton that kept the scoring down. On the moments where the Opposition were caught, Tournament super-star Harry lewis probed and punished. One break-away goal split from an Ali Edge pass gave Harry a sniff and he pulled a goal back for the good guys at 3-1 for the break.
Harry then doubled his tally at the beginning of the second half with a great solo goal that brought South back to within one. However, a penalty stroke given away for a flying clearance from Wiz with his chest meant that the Staff could put the game to bed. The stroke was dispatched with gusto as it kissed the upright in the top-corner. 4-2 with four minutes to play. Harry tried his best to narrow the deficit with the Perse GK pulling off three fantastic saves to deny him.
The game fizzled out with the Staff side keeping South at bay like an older sibling holding you back with one arm and taunting with the other. Beaten by the better side South walked off and set the plan for the rest of the evening in place!