Both Reading and Bowdon Hightown came through nail-biting semi-finals in dramatic fashion to take their places at Wembley in a repeat of the 2011 final.
With both teams no stranger to this big occasion a number of key battles will take place all over the court. The Top of the D takes a look at the players who could make the difference this weekend.
Amy Tennant: It is easy to forget that Tennant is not yet 21 when you consider what she has achieved in the game already: In the 2011 final she was Hightown’s match winner clinching the title for her side with a sudden death penalty shootout save from Reading’s Emma Thomas. In this year’s semi-finals she stepped up to the plate once again, saving twice in the shootout to give Bowdon a tense win over Canterbury, setting up a repeat of that memorable 2011 clash. It appears Hightown’s young goalkeeper has quite the appetite for the big occasion. Captain Fay Nash said of the 20-year-old:”We know she’ll do the business. You rely on her like you do some of our senior players. She’s a class player and we’re all so proud of her.” Don’t rule out another heroic display from Tennant this coming Sunday.
Sarah Ellis: Ellis, a winner of this competition last year and a runner-up the year before, has blossomed since taking over as Reading’s No1 from Beth Storry. A player with no little big-match experience she has been capped by England Indoors and seems to rise to the challenge of performing in front of a big crowd. The former Slough goalkeeper has turned heads with her outstanding agility, her speed off her line and her ability to command her D. Reading conceded just 17 goals in the league phase of the competition and Ellis certainly played her part in that.
Fay Nash: Nash is exactly what you imagine a captain should be: Tenacious, determined, hard-working and with plenty of ability she truly leads by example. Nash has suffered heartbreak in this competition before, losing out to two late Sutton Coldfield goals in the semi-finals last season. In characteristic style she used that setback as motivation, vowing to come back stronger and to make it all the way to Wembley this time out, which Hightown duly did. Nash showed her courage and coolness under pressure in the semi-final, slotting home her effort in the shootout to help give her side the win. She will not be overawed by the occasion and will be one of the driving forces behind Bowdon’s efforts to repeat their 2011 win over the same opponents.
Emma Thomas: Thomas has become used to lifting silverware in her time as Reading’s skipper. Last season she got her hands on no less than three trophies, including this competition. Some may feel she has a personal score to settle after her penalty was saved in the 2011 shootout, handing the title to Hightown. However, the Reading skipper is the ultimate team player and will be fully focused on getting her team over the line rather than any personal vendetta. She is a fantastic competitor with a good engine, excellent vision and the ability to score important goals-she chipped in with six strikes on the way to final. With such a star-studded line up at his disposal it speaks volumes for the 26-year-old that Steve Bayer has named her as his captain. Have no doubt she will show everyone why come Sunday’s final.
The Goal Machines:
Tina Cullen: 14 goals in the league phase of the competition and another two in the semi-final, Tina Cullen shows no sign of letting up and giving goalkeepers a quiet life. Throughout the competition The Bowdon Player-Coach has linked up almost telepathically with Sally Walton with the two of them responsible for 35 of Hightown’s 50 goals on the way to the final. Cullen’s experience and ability to be in the right place at the right time make her one of the most deadly goal scorers and one of the most feared players in the domestic league. She only needs one to chance to find the net and in the pressure cooker of the Wembley Final her cool head and impeccable finishing could well be the difference between the two sides. Cullen is a proven match winner and will undoubtedly have her part to play this Sunday.
Alex Danson: Reading shared their 47 goals in the qualifying phase across 11 different scorers. Danson chipped in with four of those strikes in the second weekend of the competition to help fire her side into the semi-final. Of course the semi-final against Slough is where the Reading No15 really came to the fore: She netted a hat-trick including a dramatic late winner with just seconds left on the clock. Danson, like Tina Cullen for Bowdon is a natural goalscorer. Her pace, trickery, strength and ability to finish make her a dangerous prospect for any defence, whilst her experience at domestic and international level mean she will relish the big occasion this Sunday. Hightown have their work cut out to stop the 28-year-old who will be aiming to score the goals to fire Reading to yet another trophy.
With the teams scoring a combined 92 goals in qualifying for the semi-finals this promises to be a tense and evenly-balanced clash. Bowdon ran out 6-5 winners when the sides met in the first weekend, however Tina Cullen’s side will be taking nothing for granted against the reigning champions.
Want to see this match live? Buy tickets to the Maxinutrition Hockey 5s Championship Finals on Sunday 2 February!
This article originally appeared on the England Hockey website.