National League: Harleston Magpies relegated after three seasons

Tuesday, March 20, 2012
3:17 PM

Harleston Magpies Men have been relegated from hockey’s National League after a 4-4 home draw against fellow strugglers Indian Gymkhana.

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They went into their penultimate game knowing only victory would give them a realistic chance of avoiding the drop.

Gymkhana, who had lost at home to Magpies earlier in the season, were themselves in need of a point to avoid any chance of being dragged into the relegation play-offs.

Magpies, cheered on by a very respectable crowd, started at full throttle and pressed for an early breakthrough. However, a huge aerial pass, almost the whole length of the pitch, resulted in an early penalty corner for Indian Gym which Jagdeep Gill despatched in style.

Despite their position, Magpies can never be criticised for lack of effort and they hit back immediately to force a number of penalty corners, one of which resulted in Ben Wright drilling a shot underneath the keeper to level after 10 minutes.

Magpies commanded much of the first half and went ahead when a great through ball by Richard Gill resulted in Tommy Graham finding Wright, who casually bobbled a reverse stick shot over the advancing goalie.

Gym pulled level in the second half when another short corner saw lineman Mark Wheelhouse block on the line to concede a penalty stroke which Gill converted.

Three minutes later Gill completed his hat-trick from another perfect flick to put Magpies behind. But the game was nowhere close to over and Magpies gave their all to get the goals they needed.

A messed up aerial from the back led to Peter Bale stealing into the circle and crossing for the recalled Simon Hipwell – who seems to save his best games for Indian Gymkhana – to make it 3-3.

And the great escape appeared to be on when they forced a Gym player to knock the ball away after the whistle to concede a penalty corner which resulted in another good flick from Wright to give Magpies the lead with only nine minutes left. It did not last for long. Reece Leonard managed to save two short corners before a third resulted in a rebound landing to Pravinder Hanspal, who thumped an undercut into the roof of the net.

Bromley’s shock win over second-place Old Loughtonians meant that Magpies’ fate was sealed – and a return to regional hockey became a reality after three hard seasons. The players have vowed to stick together and plot their return to this level next year.

• Surbiton 2, Harleston Ladies 0

Magpies travelled to top of the table Surbiton knowing they would have to perform at the top of their game to compete.

Surbiton dominated the early stages, attacking at pace. Magpies defence had to be organised with strong tackles and interceptions from Catherine Cranmer and some crucial saves from goalkeeper Lisa Griffin keeping them in the game.

In the 28th minute Surbiton were awarded a penalty stroke after the ball struck a Magpies body on the way to goal. The stroke was converted by Becky Merchant.

Magpies started the second half at a higher intensity and secured greater possession of the ball. The forward line of Brook, Wheelhouse and Howland pressed high up the pitch and forced errors from the home defence. A penalty corner strike from Frances Burrell produced a good save from the Surbiton keeper who had to react quickly to keep the rebound out.

Surbiton tried to extend their lead but were frustrated by the Magpies midfield of Jones, Burrell, Barber and player of the match Debbie Francis who worked tirelessly to retain possession.

Magpies had three opportunities to get back on equal terms but were unable to convert these penalty corner chances. In the 68th minute Surbiton put the game out of reach when they scored their second goal of the game with a well- worked penalty corner routine which was finished by Vicky Bryant.

The result means that Surbiton secure the East Conference title in only their second year in the league. Magpies will now look to finish the season strongly when they play Chelmsford at Weybread on Saturday.

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