And then there were two. After nail-biting semi-final wins over Leicester and Bowdon Hightown respectively, Reading and Sutton Coldfield will battle it out to be crowned Maxifuel Super Sixes Champions this Sunday.
Sutton, who finished second during the league phase to qualify for the semi finals showed incredible character to claim their place in the final, scoring twice in the last 30 seconds to overturn a 3-2 deficit to win 4-3 against Bowdon Hightown. Having fallen behind to goals from Hightown’s Fay Nash, Michelle Liptrot and Sian French, The Pinks hit back through Charlotte Cross and Great Britain star Laura Unsworth. Having pulled their goalkeeper, they won a penalty stroke which kicking-back Jenny Parkinson held her nerve to score, before Vicky Woolford stunned Bowdon with a winner just five seconds from time. Reading’s semi-final against old foes Leicester wasn’t as packed with drama as Sutton’s but still had its share of edge-of-the-seat action. The two sides met in last year’s final, where Lauren Turner’s goal was enough to give the Pukkas the win. This time out, the ‘Ding exacted their revenge. Early goals from Becky Halle and Lindsay Molyneux and a third from Samantha Quek gave them a 3-0 lead. After reverting to a kicking back, Leicester rallied with goals from Jo Hunter and Nicola White, but it was too little, too late. So, what can we expect from these two sides this weekend? The Top of the D looks at both teams.
Record in League Phase: P: 8 W: 5 D: 2 L: 1 F: 34 A: 23 Pts: 17. Pos: 2nd.
As mentioned above, Sutton showed terrific team spirit and character in their semi-final with Bowdon Hightown. The Pinks simply refused to lie down and got their reward with the dramatic late goal which booked their place in the final.
Sutton have no reason to fear anyone. They lost just once, to Leicester in the qualification phase, and drew with Olton and West Warwicks and Clifton, winning all their other games. They got the better of their final opponents, running out 7-2 winners over Reading on the Saturday of week two. They will take great confidence from such a convincing margin of victory, but will know that Reading will be no pushover this time out.
Sutton’s strength appears to be a good team ethic. They also have a good defensive record, conceding just 23 goals in the eight games. (Only Leicester conceded fewer with 15.) Going forward too, they are a force to be reckoned with, scoring 34 goals in the league phase, which is the third most, behind Reading (35) and Bowdon Hightown (39).
First is Great Britain star Laura Unsworth. Unsworth has blossomed into a fine player for club and country. The former Leicester defender is comfortable on the ball, has excellent distribution and is strong in the tackle. She will be brimming with confidence off the back of a successful Olympics, where she collected a bronze medal, and from this week being named as co-captain for England’s upcoming Investec Tournament. Unsworth is a proven big game performer and will be crucial to Sutton’s chances.
The second needs little or no introduction. Also an Olympic medallist, now aged 45 and still banging in the goals just like she always did, Jane Sixsmith is still going strong. “Jasper” has been in fine form both indoor and out for Sutton Coldfield and as one of their more experienced players, she will be able to help the others to deal with the bright lights and big occasion that Wembley promises to be. The game will most likely be a tight affair, too, so having a striker who just needs one chance could be the difference.
As well as those two players, Captain Vicky Woolford has led her side brilliantly, driving them on and showing no little skill alongside tenacity and determination. Goalkeeper Becky Batsford has acquitted herself well, and as with all indoor hockey, the No.1’s performance can make or break a team’s competition.
Squad: Becky Batsford (GK), Sarah Fellows (GK), Alison Mapp, Sophie Manning, Gemma Boothby, Becky Florida-James, Celia Butler, Jane Sixsmith, Charlotte Cross, Vicky Woolford (c), Charlene Mason, Jenny Parkinson, Sarah Mills, Laura Unsworth.
Record In League Phase: P: 8 W: 5 D: 0 L: 3 F: 35 A: 28 Pts: 15. Pos: 4th.
Reading’s semi-final win over Leicester will have given them huge satisfaction and a great deal of confidence going into Sunday’s final. Having lost to the Pukkas in last year’s final, and having seen Leicester race away to the top of the league section of this tournament, to subsequently knock them out is a terrific achievement. The Berkshire side will be hoping they can finish the job this time out and overcome Sutton Coldfield.
Reading actually lost to Slough, Leicester and Sutton during the league phase, but did enough to qualify, finishing 6 points ahead of 5th-placed Canterbury. Despite those hiccups, they flexed their considerable muscle with a 9-0 drubbing of University of Birmingham, the largest margin of victory in this season’s competition and then usurped their old foes in the semi finals.
The defeat to their final opponents in the league phase will not weigh too heavy on Steve Bayer’s team’s minds as they have been in big finals and know that once you get to these games, everything else is forgotten. The big game experience as well as the individual flair of their team will stand them in good stead as they aim to add this title to their ever-growing trophy cabinet.
Players to watch:
The Reading ranks read a little bit like a who’s who of British hockey. All bar three of the squad have international honours and they boast some of the best players in the game. To narrow it down to a few is tricky, but here we go:
Sarah Ellis. The goalkeeper had a superb game in last year’s final and was a big factor in why the game finished 1-0 and not 8-7. Ellis pulled off a series of excellent saves and has been in good touch again this time out. The Reading No.1 says she thrives in the big-game environment, so expect her to be in inspired form when called upon.
Kate Walsh, the newly-crowned Hockey Writers’ Player of the Year is a defensive colossus and a potent weapon on penalty corners. Her experience and defensive ability will make her central to Reading’s hopes of stopping Jane Sixsmith from weaving her magic.
Helen Richardson is a player I could watch all day long. Her technical skills and ability on and off the ball are amongst some of the best in the world. She has all the tools to make her a game changer against any opposition in any competition. Sutton will need to nullify her. That is easier said than done.
Samantha Quek won the player of the match award in last year’s final, despite finishing on the losing side. Her direct style, excellent defensive skills, superb close control and her seemingly limitless energy make her a perfect indoor player. She would, I’m sure trade in the player of the match honours this time out if it meant her side won the competition. Maybe she’ll get both?
Squad: Sarah Ellis (GK), Roxy Gianfrancesco (GK), Samantha Quek, Emma Thomas (C), Helen Richardson, Wiz Hunt, Kate Walsh, Lucie Daman, Lindsey Molyneux, Becky Halle, Elspeth Cockburn, Susie Gilbert, Emily Maguire.
An exciting game shaping up in prospect with two excellent teams going head to head. Who do you think will win? Cast your vote using the poll below, or leave your views in the comments section. You can also tweet me your thoughts to @TheTopoftheD.
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