The Under 16 Boys qualified for the England Hockey National Championship Finals by winning their Regional pool in March. Eight teams qualified for the Finals which were held at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre in London 8-9 April...
The competition was tough and from what it looked like we were put in a difficult pool with Beeston, Bowdon, and Havant. Cheltenham, Harrogate, Lichfield and Harrogate made up the other pool.
v Bowdon 3-1 win
Bowdon started aggressively including what seemed a mark of intent with an aerial from pushback and had us fighting back for the first seven minutes of play. They were all over us but the defence managed to stem the tide and we started to control the match and started to have chances during the remainder of the half. Against the run of play a goal went in 1.5 minutes before half time and we were 0-1 down.
A good half time talk from Coaches Rob and Gary had the boys returning to the pitch and continue to win the midfield battles, distribute the ball well from around the back and get many, many shots on target. The Bowdon keeper was excellent and it took something even better to get it past him which came in the form of a reverse stick hit by Elliot to send the ball flying past the keeper's ear at speed. More and more chances were saved by the keeper but at the rate we were getting them on target two more found their way past. An exquisite second half for the boys including superb individual skills, great teamwork and a never say die attitude.
v Beeston 2-4 loss
Next up were Beeston. We had been warned that they play a physical, direct game. We had a strong start (in contrast to the Bowdon match) and had two near misses in the first three minutes of play. They had four very fast forwards and their plan was to send a through ball and have the forwards run onto it. We didn't adapt to this style of play as well as we should have. Our marking wasn't tight enough and despite clawing back after 0-2 down to 2-3 down, a fourth goal went in when our sweeper was left in the second 4-on-1 of the match. Disappointing to lose by two goals - we nearly scored more but it didn't happen. One more pool match the following day and with other teams also having wins and losses, we could still finish 1, 2, 3, or 4 in the pool.
v Havant 1-0 win
So, doing the maths, we needed to beat Havant by 2-0 to get to the Bronze medal match and win by a certain additional goal difference - depending on how much Beeston would beat Bowdon on the other pitch - to get to the Gold medal match. Another strong start for us and we played some excellent hockey in this match. The Havant defence was good and the keeper was having a good day. Bad luck because we were stringing together some beautiful passes and finishes - just couldn't get it past the keeper (not to mention the many, many short corners). Scored a goalwhich really put the fire into the bellies to get that much needed second goal. A short corner drive ended with the ball going in the goal off of a defender's foot. The resulting penalty was saved and a few more short corners also went unconverted including one on the final whistle. It was not to be our day despite an excellent performance from the boys.
So, a top five in the country finish but also the feeling that if we could play like we did in the third match and in the second half of the Bowdon match we could have beat any of the top four teams given the chance.
Well done to the boys for being good sports despite their disappointment - they graciously shook hands and wished their opponents well despite that things didn't go their way.
And well done to Rob for sharing his excellent top level tactics and strategies and coaching the boys through the different ways of playing to try to win each match. And to Gary who postponed his trip to Cyprus to help in the locker room and at the side of the pitch with his valuable experience as well!
A great weekend - just not the result we had hoped for. The boys have a final tournament on 30 April in Mercian League Finals Day and are looking forward to that.