Hockey Firsts victorious in crucial relegation six-pointer

York moved off the foot of BUCS League 2B with a 2-1 home win over relegation rivals Northumbria, a late goal from Andy Harris proving all-important

Photograph by George Lowther

Photograph by George Lowther

UNIVERSITY OF YORK FIRSTS 2
UNIVERSITY OF NORTHUMBRIA FIRSTS 1

BUCS League 2B – Wednesday 3rd February

A late goal from Andy Harris secured York a crucial win against Northumbria today in a hard-fought relegation battle. Having won only once in the league all season and playing against the side one place above them in the table, today’s game was vital in York’s battle to beat the drop. It was clear that both teams were feeling the pressure, with tempers flaring on either side, but York kept their cool to secure an essential victory. Skipper Andy McIlwraith said he was “delighted” with the performance, particularly as he felt his side “could have easily put another three past them”.

York looked up for the game straight from the off, but without ever really threatening to strike and the first opportunity fell to the visitors who were prevented only by some great work by Matt Foakes. Northumbria were pushing the ball around well but York were pressuring them all across the pitch, a good example of this led to Niko Bode breaking down the right having dispossessed his opposite man but the cross for Henry Mellor was just too heavy and the chance was missed.

After about ten minutes Northumbria went in front. A short corner was awarded to the away side and Connor Dempsey swept home from close range to give his side the lead. York’s heads didn’t drop though and they pushed forward in search of an equaliser. The attacking intent was evident but passes were misplaced, balls weren’t stopped and there seemed to be a general lack of confidence infecting the team; something backed-up by goalkeeper Sam Harriman shouting for “simple things” from the outfield players in front of him.

With York camped on the edge of the Northumbria ‘D’ the visitors looked to strike on the counter-attack and the energetic Adam Louden shot just over after a good break-away. Soon after York received three short corners in a row as they fought tooth and nail to get back on level terms. Henry Mellor’s shot was blocked on the line, before Northumbria’s ‘keeper kept out another effort and the third attempt was wasted before anyone could get a shot away. A coming together between York’s James Branton and Northumbria’s Patrick Keery demonstrated just how much the game meant to both sides as tensions rose across the field.

Men's Hockey, 3.02.2010, Photo: George Lowther

York’s 2-1 win lifted them above Northumbria and off the bottom of the table. The two sides take a break from league action for the BUCS Cup next week but, in a quirk of the draw, meet each other once again. Photograph by George Lowther.

Just before the break with York fighting for an avenue back into the game, some good work by Billy Walsh led to a short corner; York’s sixth of the half. This time they made their pressure count as Mellor’s shot was diverted in at the far post by Branton. There was a sense that York really needed to get back on level terms before the interval and, having scored only nine goals this season, the team’s relief was palpable. They had certainly deserved their leveller, enjoying much of the game’s play but having been unable to convert their dominance into clear-cut chances.

The break did little to calm either side down as early on in the second half Northumbria were reduced to ten men. Baffled by the Umpire’s somewhat questionable calls throughout the game Adam Louden asked one question too many and was sent to calm down in the dug-out. Northumbria were incensed with the decisions being made all afternoon but their captain later refused to blame their defeat on the officials saying; “You can’t complain too much, you can only play with what’s in front of you and it was the same for both sides”

York streamed forward to take advantage of their superiority in numbers but their efforts were futile. Two short corners resulted in no success before Harris was just unable to finish off a great team move, shooting just wide. At this point it seemed York’s inability to execute their chances might, once again, be their downfall. A good piece of harrying by Nick Latcham, who never stopped running and was a constant annoyance to Northumbria’s defence, allowed Harris to cross the ball to Mellor. Unfortunately, for the man nicknamed KitKat by his teammates, he too was unable to find the target.

Men's Hockey, 3.02.2010, Photo: George Lowther

After next week’s cup match, the firsts travel to Leeds University seconds, host Durham University thirds and then conclude their season with a trip across town to York St. John. Photograph by George Lowther.

With York very much playing for the win they sometimes left themselves exposed at the back and Foakes was once again to thanks, twice in quick succession, for keeping his side from going behind. The first occasion a threatening aerial ball was expertly controlled by the centre-back when opposition attackers were looming and the second, from a short corner, was swotted away on the line. Tempers were flaring in the final few minutes as Northumbria began to push forward themselves and another clearance off the line, this time from substitute Rob Newton, kept York on equal terms.

With five minutes to go victory was sealed. A superb, incisive ball from Mellor found Harris – breaking forward from midfield – and he skilfully rounded the keeper before finishing to send the appreciable crowd into frenzy. The celebrations showed just how much it meant to the players, and supporters alike. Northumbria captain James Atkinson was magnanimous in defeat, deeming the game “scrappy” but applauding York for “playing very well” and giving “100%”. York’s captain, McIlwraith, was “delighted”, calling the win as “big as Roses”, alluding to the victory’s importance in terms of avoiding relegation; something York have a much larger chance of doing thanks to today’s win.

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