Mens 1st Team v St Albans W 4-3

Harleston Magpies Men’s XI sponsored by Dynamic Sport welcomed league rivals St Albans to the Nest on a fine Saturday afternoon. The touch of warmth and clear skies were a welcome sight to all before a game that had the hallmarks of a dead rubber, after promotion had been confirmed for both sides. However, the strong line-ups and professional approach of the two teams suggested the game to be played would be one worth watching.

Two previous stellar Magpies performances this season, both indoors and out, had the team in white and black consciously aware that St Albans would be seriously hunting for revenge. But an intense warm up and some rousing words from captain Tom Ridley ensured the home side were ready from the off. 

With the whistle blown, an intense first half was underway. Strong tackles, serious skills and an out of breath Ollie Whiteman summarize the opening minutes, as both teams worked hard to gain a foothold in a highly competitive end to end display. But it would be Magpies that felt the thrill of going ahead first, with Captain Tom Ridley demonstrating some trademark magic down left, creating room to fire a ball across the D, allowing a lunging Tim Whiteman time to slap the ball resoundingly into the Albans net. 

This kick started a spell of serious fight back from the opposition, who, with good midfielders of their own, found opportunities within the Magpies 25 several times. But strong performances from a back line led by Leigh Sitch and his sidekick Bedwell allowed Magpies to rebuff the majority of these, with a flamboyant but necessary triple save from keeper Chris Leek drawing admiration from the wide-eyed supporters. However, the hard work of the dedicated back line wouldn’t be enough to keep out the opposition, who after securing a short corner thanks to a questionable (but needed) last man tackle, were able to slot the ball into the right side of the net. A second quickly followed for the away side, with Magpies players scratching their heads wondering who’d allowed their man too much freedom. But the team culture of this tight knit Magpies side prevented any finger pointing, as the game at hand required total concentration. 

As the first half wore on, the high intensity of the game led to disaster for the home team. Defensive guru Tom Sumner, who’s performance up to then had been perfect for Magpies and a pain for Albans, was deemed out of action due to an ankle injury. But this years new defensive additions of Will Tew and Ollie Whiteman were up to the task, only mildly grumbling at the thought of playing more minutes. 

With the game restarted, Magpie went for the throat, displaying an outstanding few minutes of aggressive, high intensity pressure on the Albans backline. But as so often is the case in clashes between league titans, the hard working opposition defense gave as good as they got. Turnover after turnover led to sore necks for spectators, as the end to end hockey had coach Whiteman frustrated at his sides lack of total dominance. But it was during this spell that Whiteman was able to find redemption for his earlier lack of marking (St Albans goal 2), when he opted to employ a disguised ‘slow ball’ style drag flick for Magpies only short corner of the game. The balls relative lack of pace fooled both defender and keeper alike, allowing the home side to enter half time level with their opponents. 

 A determined team talk complete with tactical reminders from the Magpies Coach had the team nodding heads with renewed vigor for the final half of hockey they’d play this season. The intensity and commitment to fitness Magpies had displayed all year was apparent as the two teams lined up, with Magpies displaying a brightness about them, akin to the twinkle in manager Kevin’s eye at the thought of the beers soon to be consumed. This fitness advantage soon told, when, repeated high pressure from the confident Magpies forward line led to James Gray seizing control of the ball from the Albans centre back, only to drive into the D and unleash an unstoppable shot with his New Zebu hockey stick. 

The ongoing intensity of the home teams style of play, led to dominance high up the pitch. However with an Albans team looking lethal on the counter, an unfamiliar back two partnership of Andrew Bedwell and Ollie Whiteman following an injury to Leigh Sitch, resulted in an unfortunate opportunity for Albans to equalize and take the game to 3-3. Nevertheless, the attitude of the boys in monochrome prevented any grey feelings, as they steeled themselves to go again. 

The closing third of the game was awash with chances for Pies, as Raunaq Rai, welcomed back into the team after a stint of school hockey, was able to find room to turn for a spin shot. Other chances, for Dave Gilbert, James Gray, Jude Potruff and Richard Larkin all led to frustrating clearances. But it was at this point that the umpiring duo’s saturation for robust tackles was reached, with an uncharacteristic card for Richard Larkin followed all too quickly by a now familiar card for Will Tew. 

The shortage in numbers, not at all unfamiliar to Magpies, led to a spell of high stress for the home side as they worked frantically to ensure no errand ball entered their net. A goal line diving clearance from debutant youngster Jude Potruff highlighted the commitment all displayed, as the magpies team weathered the storm. Once back up to full strength, it was St Albans turn to be afraid as the confidence and ability of Pies shone through. Great efforts up front lead to a UEA Dave rocket gaining a deflection off of  Tim Whiteman’s Stick to gain the final goal of the match and thus victory. Whiteman, clearly unhappy with the lack attention a home match hat trick would bring, decided to use the games final moments to clinch a head injury that would thus negate his need to buy the team a Jug. 

It is with that, the Mens 1st XI sign off their final match report of the season and UEA Dave’s final game. The sight of his many goals, his eye-catching trousers, and his commitment to Magpies may be gone, but will always be remembered. The team would like to say a huge thank-you for all the support they have received club wide, from the supporters on a Saturday, to the many people who work tirelessly behind the scenes who have enabled us to progress this year. We say thank-you to the tireless work of manager Kevin and coach Whiteman, and look forward to the challenges National league will bring.