Magpies, sponsored by Durrants, took a relatively young and inexperienced squad to their first weekend in Nottingham, with a few injury drop outs leaving the team short of recognised defenders. Fortunately, the strong block of training sessions in the lead up to the tournament meant that Magpies could make a few positional changes within their squad. Harleston welcomed back players Archie Winter and Carl Sitch to the squad, who learnt their hockey with the Weybread team.
For the first match, Magpies faced local rivals Ipswich. The match started badly with Sitch dislocating his finger after playing just 5 minutes of hockey, putting him out for the entire tournament and further adding to Magpies’ defensive woes. Meanwhile, the game was being evenly contested, but the greater experience of Ipswich showed in the crucial moments, meaning Magpies went down by 4 goals to 3, with Ipswich scoring in the last couple of minutes. Next up were tournament favourites Reading. With Magpies down early but coming back at the eventual champions, the goalkeeper was taken off for a kicking back, but this tactic proved naïve and Reading piled on a few late goals to eventually run out a flattering 12 goals to 4.
After regrouping on the Saturday evening, Magpies were relieved to see veteran Tristan Baynes arrive to add some structure to the defensive line. His presence had immediate effect in the must win match against Olton and West Warwickshire, Magpies finishing as 4-3 winners in a comfortable match, which should have ended with a larger winning margin. Harleston were happy to take the 3 points though in advance of playing the star-studded Bowdon team. Magpies then put in their best performance of the weekend, managing to put in a superb team display, frustrating the normally free flowing Bowdon side to minimal chances, whilst managing to convert their own. Harleston defended resolutely and finished as deserved 5-3 winners, in what would turn out to be the only victory against Bowdon in the tournament by any team. After the first weekend, Magpies sat mid table, with 6 points, in a good position to fight in the relegation battle.
Having learnt a lot from the first weekend, Magpies made the long journey to Bristol for the second week of the competition. First up was a mid table battle with indoor specialists Ashmoor. Magpies started slowly, so had to chase the game, playing into the hands of the counter-attacking Ashmoor. Despite a good defensive performance, Magpies couldn’t unlock Ashmoor, eventually losing 3-1. This led Harleston to be checking over their shoulders with only giants Beeston left to play on the Saturday. However, in true David and Goliath style, Magpies put in their best performance of the tournament. Coach Tim Whiteman, playing against his old club, led the underdogs to a dramatic 3-2 win, meaning that Magpies would go into the Sunday of the tournament knowing that their division 1 status was secured for another season.
With the pressure off, Magpies played Sunday’s early match against strugglers St Albans with a much larger amount of freedom. Finding the balance between total hockey and structure perfectly, Magpies played with complete control of the game, winning by their largest margin of the tournament, 9 goals to 3. A truly classy performance, with Magpies finally showing their true potential. The final match against Loughborough Students was a dead rubber, with neither team fighting for relegation or promotion. This, predictably, led to a 4-4 draw, with both teams going away feeling they should have won the match.
Overall, Magpies finished in 5th position in the 9 team league, ranking them 14th in the country overall. A massive thank you to all the players and management (Kevin Ridley) who made the two weekends run so well. The indoor season truly is the highlight of the year for everyone who plays, with Harleston once again overachieving against their big named opponents. Magpies can be proud of the fact that 9 of their 13 man squad have been a home grown product of the junior minis system at their own club- a far greater percentage than any other team in this league.
Squad: Chris Leek (GK), Tristan Baynes, Richard Larkin (C), Ben Gowing, Tim Whiteman, Thomas Ridley, Simon Hipwell, Jack Hobbs, Raunaq Rai, James Gray, Dave Gilbert, Carl Sitch, Archie Winter. Manager- Kevin Ridley, Coaches- Tim Whiteman, Richard Larkin