Goalkeeper Sarah Ellis was the star of the show with four saves in the penalty shootout as Reading avenged their defeat to Leicester in last year’s final to take home the trophy here at Sonning Lane.
The two heavyweights of the women’s domestic game came together but despite the array of talent on show it was a cagey affair dominated by the two defences. Chances were at a premium.
Alex Danson was doing her best to engineer space and time to shoot at goal but Julia Karwatzky and Hannah Smith were impressive in the Pukkas’ back line keeping a watchful eye on the Great Britain star. At the other end Kate Walsh, the Premier League Player of the Year was typically dominant alongside Emily Maguire who looked impossible to pass.
Samantha Quek was dangerous throughout and created the first real chance of the match with a lovely run and pass to feed Danson but Maddie Hinch was off her line quickly to block the chance.
Leicester forced a couple of penalty corners but were unable to threaten the Reading goal as half time came.
Reading opened the third quarter with a penalty corner from Walsh which was brilliantly saved by Hinch who got a strong glove to the ball to guide it away from danger.
With time running out in the quarter Quek again managed to break through the Leicester defence with another terrific run from deep. As she entered the D she was brought down by a combination of Leicester defenders and a penalty stroke was awarded. Captain Emma Thomas stepped up and opened the scoring despite Hinch getting her pads to the ball.
Leicester rallied and Karwatzky saw a penalty corner brilliantly picked off the line by Leah Wilkinson, whilst at the other end Hinch made another good save to deny Becky Halle after good approach work from Wiz Hunt.
The Pukkas won a penalty corner on the stroke of full time and in a moment of high drama, snatched an equaliser. Ellis did well to save the initial effort but Vanessa Hawkins was on hand to despatch the rebound to take the game to extra time.
Extra time came and went with both sides unable to break each other down, and so, for the second successive year the two sides would go to penalties.
Kate Walsh was first up, driving into the D and gliding almost effortlessly past Hinch to make it 1-0.
Nicola White was first to go for Leicester but Ellis was out sharply and got a strong stick on the ball to repel the chance, White’s follow up went in, but the time had run out and it remained 1-0 to Reading. Danson went next and coolly converted the chance to make it 2-0.
Chloe Rogers was also kept out by Ellis who again did brilliantly to intercept with her stick, before Hinch returned the compliment by saving from Emma Thomas. Not to be deterred, Ellis saved another, this time from Hawkins and Hinch kept out Susie Gilbert. Karwatzky stepped up for Leicester, knowing she had to score to keep her side alive. She dummied a shot as she entered the circle but Ellis was not fooled and took the ball brilliantly on her reverse before kicking the ball clear. Reading had won the shootout by two goals to nil.
Leicester will have to content themselves with a place in Europe next season which they secured by virtue of the first-placed finish in the league.
For Reading the win caps a fantastic season which has seen them win the Maxifuel Super Sixes and now the Investec Championship Playoff Final.
It may have taken a while for this one to warm up, but in the end, it gave the crowd the drama and entertainment they had hoped for, and Sarah Ellis a place in Reading Hockey Club history.