Harleston Magpies Mens first team, sponsored by Dynamic Club Shops, travelled to the home of the University of Cambridge at Wilberforce Sports Ground looking to further cement their top four position. They were greeted by gale-force winds but also welcome support from stalwart club members. Manager K.Ridley had delivered a powerful message on local radio this week but the team knew this was going to be challenging encounter against their rivals for promotion.
After a slightly rushed warm up, organised by captain T.Ridley, the teams lined up for the crucial clash. The reverse fixture had seen Magpies control and win the game using a half court press and it was clear from the get-go that the scholars had prepared for the same. A quick tempo from the students allowed them to dominate the early exchanges and they were rewarded with the lead when a crash ball looped off O.Whiteman’s stick gifting an opposition forward a volleyed tap-in past the stranded Leek. Despite further control of possession by the home team, a moment of excellent individual work down the left resulted in Hobbs entering the circle and unleashing his trusted backhand to pull Magpies level. Ably assisted by his forward colleague Gilbert. Following the equaliser the game settled down and Magpies’ disciplined formation stifled the young light blues for long periods.
Unfortunately, it was a controversial moment that led to the home side regaining the advantage. Bale was robbed illegally in midfield but despite his strong appeals, Cambridge were allowed to advance and after a melee in the circle the ball fell to a light blue shirt who dispatched the ball into the corner of the goal, leaving Leek no chance. On reflection this injustice may have been the pivotal moment of the match. Magpies stepped up their game with coach T.Whiteman and T.Ridley leading from the front to carve out a number of attacks. It was the latter who quickly pulled Magpies level for the second time, exploiting hesitancy from the youthful defence to drive into the right side of the D and smash home a crisp strike. Magpies then began to play some of their trademark attacking hockey but their sharp connections fell just short and prevented them adding to the scoring. The half ended with Magpies absorbing a few attack’s but calm defending from the experienced back four maintained the score at evens.
Following a considered team talk, Magpies started the second half well and began to utilise their new formation to good effect. Unfortunately, a moment of ill discipline (possibly from lack of sleep) led to new father Skinner receiving a green card and reducing the visitors to ten. Instead of being detrimental this spurred Pies on and some slick work down the right from O.Whiteman and the Skipper resulted in a special cross which allowed “UEA Dave – Fox in the box” Gilbert the chance adjust and roll the ball home for a first time Magpies lead. Cambridge soon lost a man themselves and within minutes Magpies were at it again with T.Whiteman bamboozling four defenders before drawing a foul. T.Ridley stepped over the ball, carried hard and crossed for the teams other poacher Gray, who made no mistake giving Magpies a two goal cushion (4-2).
Magpies worked hard to limit the home team as they strived to get back into the match. It was another umpiring decision that allowed the hosts pull a goal back. Sitch appeared to make one of his customary well timed tackles in the circle, only to be punished with a short corner. The students grabbed this gift with both hands and used their intelligence to pull off a well timed spin routine, which provided their striker with a close range drag flick into the roof. Magpies were forced to soak up further pressure soon after and survived two more short corners, one of which saw Leek use his agility to push the ball round the post, much to the delight of the cameraman.
In the last 10minutes Magpies demonstrated their growth and development as a side over the last two seasons. Despite further green cards for both Gilbert and Hobbs, the team maintained their poise, concentration and short interplay to see the game through. Notable examples of this included Gowing and Tew who stole valuable yards and time down the left. In the end though it was the flair of Magpies’ player-coach and captain who ran down the clock to give Magpies another important victory.
The team has five games left of the season and if they can maintain this form and focus, a return to the National league is in their own hands.