An Andy Watts Penalty Corner goal from the last play of the match handed Reading the England Hockey League Championship and sent East Grinstead home empty-handed for the second year in a row.
With a galaxy of international stars on show for a big crowd, this game promised to be a thriller and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Both sides started at a frantic pace, looking to exploit space down the wings and trying to create chances by cutting in from the baseline. Both Nick Brothers and Richard Potton had been called into action before Reading took the lead in the ninth minute. A strong run from the middle of the pitch by Nick Catlin caused confusion at the edge of the East Grinstead D. With Jonty Clarke in close attendance, the ball broke back to Catlin who calmly slotted home, much to the delight of the partisan home crowd.
Having been beaten 8-1 by the Sussex side twice this season, Reading’s lead was perhaps a surprise for some. However, during the first quarter of this game they more than matched their opponents as the game flowed from end to end. East Grinstead exerted a lot of pressure as they tried to get back into the match. They drew level in the 29th minute as Mark Pearn seized on a loose ball in the D and sent a low shot fizzing into the corner.
Roared on by the home crowd, Reading simply would not lie down. In the 49th minute an incredible long pass from Richard Mantell found Andy Watts in the East Grinstead D. Watts showed terrific composure, holding the ball up long enough to roll a pass in to the path of Chris Newman who dived full length to slip the ball past Potton. It was a splendid goal.
With East Grinstead looking uncharacteristically nervy, Reading sensed an equaliser, which is exactly what they got in the 61st minute. A broken down penalty corner resulted in a low shot being saved, but not cleared by Richard Potton. Showing a calm head under tremendous pressure, Richard Springham lifted the rebound over the goalkeeper and into the roof of the net to send the home fans into raptures.
The joy was short lived. Within a minute, Niall Stott was left unmarked on the right wing. Stott burst forward and found Darren Cheesman who finished off the move to hand his side the lead once again.
As before, Reading threw everything at their rivals in a desperate bid to rescue the game. A crowded and chaotic D saw a mix-up in the East Grinstead defence, resulting in another equaliser by virtue of an own goal. With thoughts turning to extra time for the second time that day, Reading won a penalty corner right at the death. The pressure was immense as the umpires ran the clock down, making this the last play of the match. As with Springham’s goal earlier, the
initial shot was saved, however Andy Watts, Reading’s top scorer showed that poacher’s instinct again, reacting quickest to smash home the rebound.
There were jubilant scenes as the Reading players raced over to their fans, mobbing each other in celebration of this huge achievement. The Sonning Lane side had finished ten points behind East Grinstead in the regular league season; however, as is always the case when these teams meet, the form book goes out of the window, just as it did today. After seeing their ladies side defeated by Leicester earlier on in the day, the men salvaged the weekend for their club with an extraordinary performance. Who says cup finals are dull?