East Grinstead maintained their place at the top of the table going into the last game of the season with a hard-fought 4-3 win over Reading at Saint Hill today. As they had in the first game between the two sides earlier on in the season, The Sussex side marched into a 3-0 lead only to be pegged back by a strong second half display from Reading. On this occasion, however, the Sonning Lane side were unable to pull off the come back and went home empty handed.
The first goal of the match came as early as the sixth minute. Ashley Jackson showed good pace and power to drive into the D on the right hand side, riding a strong tackle to continue towards goal. With the angle getting tighter and with goalkeeper James Bailey closing him down, Jackson calmly waited for the goalkeeper to commit himself before lifting a lovely finish into the far corner to break the deadlock.
Reading dominated possession and territory for a large part of the first period but East Grinstead defended stoutly ensuring chances were scarce. The visitors were unlucky not to draw level in the 22nd minute as Richard Mantell’s low penalty corner struck the post but then at the other end Jackson burst into the D once more and was only halted by a brave charge from his line by Bailey.
With eight minutes remaining in the half, East Grinstead extended their lead. Jackson’s through pass found its way to Mark Pearn who shot on the turn past the onrushing goalkeeper to make it 2-0. With two minutes left in the half East Grinstead made it 3-0. Reading lost the ball in their own half and a sweeping break saw the ball cut back from the baseline to the near post where Mark Gleghorne pounced to apply the finish and give Reading a mountain to climb.
As with the first half, the first big chance of the second period fell to East Grinstead. Jackson fired a lovely long pass into the D where Pearn deflected it goalwards but Bailey was alert and made a splendid save diving to his left to get a strong glove on the ball to push it to safety. On 38 minutes there was an even better chance for the hosts, Jackson again broke free, slipping the ball past Bailey towards Gleghorne at the far post but somehow the No27 failed to get a touch with the goal gaping and the chance went begging.
Reading pulled one back in the 42nd minute through Tom Carson’s drag flick although in truth, Richard Potton in the East Grinstead goal may feel he could have done better in his attempts to keep it out. Three minutes later, however the three goal cushion was re-established as Luke Taylor’s excellent drag flick found the bottom corner to Bailey’s right.
Reading continued to press, attempting to salvage something from the game. A trademark long ball from Mantell found Chris Newman in the D but the No20’s reverse stick shot was beaten away by Potton’s gloves. The Sonning Lane side ramped up the pressure on the hosts with their second goal. Ben Boon seized on a loose ball at the top of the D and smashed an unstoppable shot past Potton to make it 4-2. EG’s defence creaked under the pressure and Potton was called upon again to get a glove to youngster Peter Scott’s reverse stick shot from the right of the D before Jonty Clarke fired wide from a tight angle.
At the other end Pearn collected a through ball and hit a snapshot at goal which was blocked by Bailey. The rebound fell to Andy Bull but Bailey shadowed him across the D well before making a splendid block to keep Reading in contention.
With ten minutes left, East Grinstead had a gilt-edged chance to make the game safe. Jackson slipped a penalty corner to Gleghorne whose drag flick hit the man on the line resulting in a penalty stroke. Jackson stepped up to take it and after a lengthy delay whilst Bailey adjusted his kit, the Great Britain star lifted his effort high over the bar to the disbelief of the crowd.
It did not prove to be costly, however as there were no more goals until Reading forced a penalty corner on the final whistle. Mantell’s pass was expertly deflected into the net by John Jackson but it was too little, too late and Reading went down 4-3.
Charlie Seccombe, Reading Coach told The Top of the D:
“We knew we couldn’t afford to give them a head start like we did before, but again we did that and we weren’t able to pull it back this time. We had some lapses and they took their chances. We’ll hopefully get another chance to play them at some point in the playoffs but it’s important we learn our lessons from today and make sure we come back stronger.” He added: “One of their threats is that they have players who can score a goal in an instant. If you’re a bit loose in possession or a bit slack at the back, they’ll punish you. We controlled the game for long periods today and yet the ball ended up in our net, not theirs. The margins are so small against a side like East Grinstead and you can’t afford to give them any chances like we did today.”
East Grinstead Captain Glenn Kirkham was clearly very satisfied with his team’s efforts, saying:
“We haven’t really turned up against the top teams so far this season so it was a game where we needed to put a good result on the board to put a marker down. In the second half we were off the pace a bit but they made it more difficult for us so that’s to be expected. Overall we’re happy with how we played and our ability to take our chances has helped us to get the win.” he continued: “Today we scored at the right times. They got back to 3-1 but that fourth goal gave us a buffer we needed. It’s disappointing we didn’t take a couple more of our chances but it’s hard to be disappointed with a win against Reading ahead of playoffs.”
Next week both sides face their final game of the league season before embarking on the playoffs. East Grinstead face a tough trip to Surbiton whilst Reading go up against Loughborough Students.
As always, visit the England Hockey website for all the results.