Four goals from Sheffield Hallam’s Phil Roper were not enough to give his side their second consecutive playoff win as Cardiff’s resistance ensured the promotion places will go right down to the wire.
Roper opened the scoring with a trademark penalty corner, beating Ben Dudley high to his right early on.
The game had a higher pace and intensity than the game which had preceded it, but as with the first match of the day, chances were hard to come by. Cardiff notched their equaliser after a turnover in the Sheffield half. Luke Hawker robbed Brendan Creed and got to the baseline where his cutback came to nothing due to a heavy stick tackle by a Hallam defender, resulting in a penalty stroke. Tim Jones sent the goalkeeper the wrong way and it was all square.
Immediately after Hallam restored their lead. Roper showed he is more than just a penalty corner specialist by hitting a lovely reverse-stick shot into the far corner giving the goalkeeper no chance. Mark Whatling sent a penalty corner wide of the post as Cardiff tried to force their way back into the match. They managed to do just that albeit with a stroke of good fortune. A long cross into the D from Whatling missed everyone, except goalkeeper Simon Hujwan, the ball clipping his foot and going in for an own goal.
The see-saw nature of the game continued as Hallam were awarded a stroke which, despite Dudley’s interesting antics in goal, Roper held his nerve to score. Jones blazed a late chance over the bar and that was half time.
The second half picked up where the first had left off. Both teams showed a lot of attacking ambition and it was cut and thrust as Sheffield tried to put the game out of Cardiff’s reach. Cardiff actually struck back to level the game at 3-3. Rich Howson produced a lovely slapped finish as he fell, lifting the ball over the goalkeeper and into the net.
Roper almost added another but his flick was cleared off the line by Chris Shaw, and he was further frustrated when Dudley made a good diving save from another penalty corner. Roper was not to be denied for long, as from yet another penalty corner he found the roof of the net with a fierce flick to make it 4-3. It was starting to look like Hallam would maintain their 100% record but with time running out Liam Brignull turned the ball over inside the Hallam 25, with the goalkeeper closing him down, Brignull produced an outrageous finish, looping the ball high over the goalkeeper’s head, dropping just under the bar for 4-4.
Roper almost had the last word with another reverse stick effort saved by the goalkeeper, but it was to end honours even.
The draw makes the next round of games crucial with all the sides still in contention for a place in next year’s premier league.