East Grinstead secured all three points in the blistering Sussex sunshine thanks to Niall Stott’s goal ten minutes from time, but it was hardly a Sunday stroll for the league leaders.
Despite having already secured top spot and a place in the end of season play offs, the Saint Hill outfit would have been looking for a strong showing in front of their home fans to maintain the momentum as they look to capture the title they narrowly lost to Beeston last season.
The first half was a cagey affair. Surbiton seemed content to soak up the pressure and hit their hosts on the break, whilst the home side looked to use a high tempo, quick restarts and a series of aerial balls into the channels to try to break their opponents down.
Gareth Carr had already sent a penalty corner fizzing over the crossbar in the 3rd minute, before he had another chance on ten minutes. This time he opted to go low, but was superbly kept out by Chris Bristow in the Surbiton goal, diving to his right to get a strong stick on the ball and diverting it to safety.
At the other end, Surbiton tried their luck with a penalty corner of their own: Captain Tim Pinnock had beaten David Kettle with his flick, only for Barry Middleton on the line to somehow deflect the ball over the bar.
After fifteen minutes, Surbiton opened the scoring. A good break from Richard Alexander saw the Great Britain star feed Fergus Dunn in the D. Dunn showed terrific composure and guided a low shot past the onrushing Kettle to give his side the lead.
Not long after, Dunn almost doubled the lead, robbing Ian Lewers before running clean through on goal. This time the goalkeeper was out quickly to block the shot and then clear the rebound. A huge let off for the home side.
Bristow in the visitor’s goal made another superb save from Mark Pearn before Danny Hall, with time and space in the D uncharacteristically blazed over. The home crowd were getting edgy as they saw their side go in behind at the break.
The second half began under almost the same pattern as the first half: East Grinstead were working hard to impose their tempo on the game, moving the ball quickly and getting it forwards at the first available opportunity. Surbiton were fending them off however, with Ken Forbes outstanding at the heart of the defence. The visitors were still causing the league leaders problems on the break, and Richard Potton, a half time replacement in the East Grinstead goal had to be at his best to deny Pinnock and then clear out the rebound from a short corner.
With Surbiton working extremely hard and defending brilliantly, it looked like East Grinstead would struggle to get a breakthrough. However, in the 49th minute, Great Britain captain Barry Middleton managed to create a chance out of nothing and sent a bullet of a reverse stick shot into the far corner giving Bristow no chance.
They were level for only a minute. Good work down the right from Captain Tim Pinnock won a short corner which Fergus Dunn flicked home low past Potton.
A minute later, it was almost 3-1. Alexander robbed Lewers on half way and linked well with Dunn, only to find Potton alert to the situation, the 25-year-old goalkeeper out quickly to smother the chance and keep his side in touch.
This started a purple patch as both sides traded goals, with four coming in the next seven minutes. First Mark Gleghorne restored parity, slotting home from close range after good work from Barry Middleton on 54 minutes. On 57 minutes James Ashcroft picked Rick Gay’s pocket and raced clear on goal. Before he could get his shot away, Gay fouled him to concede a penalty stroke. Captain Pinnock made no mistake from the spot to make it 3-2.
Directly from the restart, East Grinstead made it 3-3: Danny Hall scoring an almost exact replica of Gleghorne’s goal to leave the crowd breathless. As if that wasn’t enough, just three minutes later Niall Stott converted from a well-worked short corner to put the home side in the lead for the first time.
Danny Hall came close to putting a gloss on the score line late on, but again Bristow denied him.
The final whistle blew and the home fans breathed a sigh of relief. Surbiton defended superbly all day, and until a piece of magic from Barry Middleton, they looked like they might come away from Saint Hill having completed a classic smash and grab. In the end, the class in the East Grinstead ranks, in particular, Middleton was just too much. Both sides will now look forward to the play-offs.