The Under 18 Boys finished their league season on a high. Golden goal saw them win League Finals Day and there was plenty to celebrate at the end of a terrific season…
Mercian Junior Hockey League
The Mercian Junior Hockey League provides league fixtures for dozens of clubs spread from Oxford to Braintree to Canterbury to Southampton. Thousands of young hockey players take advantage of the many leagues for different ability levels from U10 to U18 boys. The top leagues include the strongest teams in the country.
The season culminates in the Mercian Junior League Finals Day in the end of April. The top two Premier League teams for under 14, 16 and 18s are joined by the top two teams from Regional leagues for each age group, the regional teams having won a series of play-off to qualify for the day.
League Finals Day
Guildford BU18s won the under 18 Premier League, undefeated and having scored the most goals (of all U18 leagues). Reading qualified for Finals Day having finished second in the Premier League. The two teams were joined by Saffron Walden from the SouthWest League and Old Loughtonians from the North League.
A warm up match against Guildford Men's 2s on the Monday before Finals Day helped get the team back together after Easter. Many thanks to JY and the team who had a terrific turnout of 16 for this match.
Sunday started for Guildford with a long journey to Old Loughtonians in Chigwell who were hosting this 40th anniversary edition of League Finals Day. Thermals and jackets made a reappearance on what felt more like October than end of April.
Semi-Final v Saffron Walden 3-1 win (Tom G, Josh D, Max)
First up were Saffron Walden. We didn't really know what to expect but SW had made the U14 National Finals when our U17s were 14 so we needed to be ready for a tight match.
The Guildford boys were a bit slow to start and the play was back and forth with nothing really coming out of it until at about eight minutes in, Alex in a one on one made an outstanding save off of his stick that he then kicked away to safety. That was close.
This seemed to have woken us up somewhat and with more attacking play, a few minutes later we were in with a short corner flick, saved, followed by another PC. Also saved. Much better linking and more intense play halfway through the 25-minute half saw Charlie send the ball forward to a running Tom G. The keeper came out to save at the left post but Tom deftly backhand chipped over him for 1-0.
Despite the improvement in our play during the half and after saving a Saffron Walden PC with a couple of minutes left, we went into the half time break only one goal up but knowing it could have either been by more…or a draw.
In the second half an early chance for SW from an aerial ball was a good chance for them but the defence rallied to keep the attack from bearing fruit. We then had our first PC of the half – Charlie had a solid flick that Josh deflected in for a 2-0. Small sigh of relief since we had the better and more chances but the score remained close.
Max got a third before we let SW in for 3-1 with a few minutes left. A PC for us on the final whistle left us with just the 2 goal lead and into the Final.
Final v Reading 4-4 full time (Charlie, Josh, Freddy, Charlie)
A long break and then we would play Reading who won their semi-final against Old Loughtonians 2-1. This would no doubt be a close, competitive match as it was when we met in January in the Premier League fixture. Guildford won 4-3 that day and with a few more minutes on the clock Reading - who had kept coming back into it - could very well have equalised (again).
And so that January match was a good precursor for how the match played out. In contrast to the SW match, there was no slow start from the Guildford boys this time. Well warmed up and responding to the step up in level of the game, we were quick, passed the ball well, used our individual skills and worked together.
Reading had a PC that we saved (more than once) and then we had our own PC at about 7 minutes into the half. Following (ignoring?) instructions from the coach to stay low, Charlie dragged a lovely high flick outside of the keeper’s reach for 1-0.
With time running out of the half, we were awarded a PC. Our flicker, Charlie, wasn’t on the pitch (the Coach blamed the Manager) for a repeat of the flick-deflection goal from the SW match. But Raph stepped up to do Charlie's job while Marco took over his at injector; with perfect execution Josh got on the end of the flick for 2-0 with four minutes to go in the half. A minute later another Raph flick was saved but Freddy jumped on the rebound to slot in for 3-0.
But Reading weren’t giving up and had their own PC on the half time whistle which they put in for 3-1.
At 3-0 up we thought we could continue the scoring but Reading came out in the second half with other ideas. A PC for them, saved, led to another which was scored for 3-2. And then a few minutes later another series of three PC’s in succession for Reading came and went but shortly after that they scored from open play for 3-3.
With another PC for Reading and two more for us, Charlie flicked in for 4-3 to re-take the lead. Reading then had a PC of their own and scored for 4-4. But the drama wasn’t over yet – with 8 goals scored and only 2 from open play, we then had two successive PCs on the final whistle. Surely this would decide the match but some stout defending meant the 4-4 score line took the teams to extra ten minutes each way, golden goal.
Golden Goal (2 x 10 minutes) 5-4 win (Nick)
As the first ten minutes of golden goal time got underway, it seemed that the team to get a short corner first would likely win the match: during the match we had 7 PCs and Reading had 9 – each team had scored 3. Some great play from both teams kept the score at 4-4 despite some good chances, the defenders and keepers were sharp.
The first ten minutes went scoreless but early in the second ten minutes with Reading on a full press Freddy picked up a ball in the midfield and sent it forward as fast as he could (afterward admitting he didn’t know exactly who was where but trusted them to do their jobs); Nick ran his fastest (which is very fast!) onto it and beat the keeper with a strong shot from the edge of the D. 5-4 to Guildford and the final whistle!
A close match from two strong teams – only one goal between them. If we had had to finish the ten minute half Reading would have no doubt come back into it such was their determination.
Presentations and Fair Play Trophy
Winners sticks were presented to the boys and club (by none other than two-time Olympian Dan Fox - who happened to be there that day!). And at the end of the day the umpires and league chose a team/club from the 12 participating teams for the John Beasley Fair Play Trophy. This was awarded to Guildford U18s.
The team were well behaved in tight matches. What may also have tipped the balance in our favour was a decision that went against SW in our first match – a short corner was called against the opposition for a stick tackle in the D. Our players admitted our attacker had missed the ball in the D and it was our stick hitting theirs and not the other way around. After our explanation, the umpire gave a bully off outside the D and our players agreed with the SW players we would hit the ball off so they would have a 16. Umpires can’t see everything 100% of the time and this was a very respectable thing to have done instead of taking a corner that was not deserved. Very mature and honest. If only it happened more in sport.
So, the season for the BU18s ended:
- Indoor National Champions
- Indoor South Champions
- Premier League Winners
- League Finals Day Winners
- John Beasley Fair Play Trophy
- Highest Scoring Team in all four U18 leagues
- Only undefeated team in the Premier League
It was disappointing to have had a bad first half v Winchester in the EH Cup earlier in the season which meant despite a good rally to win the second half we were knocked out of the Cup (2-3). Winchester lost to Bournemouth in the next round who will face Marlow in the Cup Final (who we beat 6-3). And Havant (9-5 win for us) will face Canterbury (3-3 draw) in the Plate final. We would surely have done well at Lee Valley had we got there. Next year…
Best of luck to the 18s moving to uni/gap years and looking forward to seeing the current U16s and 17s for next season.
Many, many thanks to Dan Fox who has made a difference in the players’ individual skills and team play. It would not have been the same without him.
v Saffron Walden