Reading were forced to put their title celebrations on hold for at least another week as they were held to a draw by a determined and well-organised Bowdon Hightown at an arctic Sonning Lane this Sunday.
Having swept aside their closest challengers Leicester 3-0 on Saturday, a win today would have secured the title for the Berkshire outfit. The point guarantees them a place in the end of season championship play offs, and whilst mathematically it is still possible for Leicester to overhaul them, Reading are almost certain of the title as well.
The weather and conditions did not exactly lend themselves to free-flowing expansive hockey and it was obvious from the first whistle that Bowdon had not come just to make up the numbers. Chances in the first half were scarce. The industrious Samantha Quek, playing against her former club, drew a good save out of Kirsty Mackay from a tight angle, whilst at the other end Beth Storry was out smartly to deny Clare Parkhill with a fine sliding block. Those two chances apart, there was not a lot of clear goalmouth action to speak of in the first half. With Kate Walsh for Reading and Sarah Hopkin for Bowdon both dominant in defence it was clear it was going to be tough to get a breakthrough.
The second half followed more or less the same pattern; Reading grew more and more into the game as they searched for the
opening goal, whilst Bowdon continued to fend off their hosts, trying to catch them out on the break.
Quek and Elizabeth Hunt down the right were combining well, and if there was to be a goal, it looked most likely to be created by one of those two. However, despite their trickery and pace, they were unable to find the all-important final ball.
The best chance of the match fell to Kate Walsh. From a broken down penalty corner, the Great Britain captain found herself free
in the D. Walsh tried to flick the ball into the far corner but found Mackay in the Bowdon goal equal to the task, saving well to her left.
Storry was a mere spectator as Bowdon rarely threatened in the second half, choosing instead to defend deeper in search of a point.
Considering Reading’s dominance in the league this year, Bowdon deserve great credit for frustrating their hosts and taking home a draw. It was a disciplined and solid defensive performance against a very talented side, who had put them under enormous pressure throughout. Despite drawing a blank today, Reading will know that they are still very much in control of their own fate. They visit Olton and West Warwicks next weekend, and you wouldn’t bet against them picking up the required points to confirm their status as league champions. Today however, the champagne was put on ice. Given the weather at Sonning Lane, that is rather apt.
Lots more content from The Top of the D’s visit to Sonning Lane will follow this week.