NOW: Pensions Men’s Promotion Playoffs: Southgate 3-0 Sheffield Hallam.

A brace of penalty strokes from Southgate’s Rick Gay clinched an immediate return to the top flight for the London side as they grabbed their second win in two games in the playoffs to secure promotion with one game to play. 

Sheffield had the better of the first half of what was a cagey battle but they could not find the finishing touch to the rare chances they were able to create. Gareth Furlong’s early penalty corner was charged down by the runner and Gavin Byers was kept out well by Chris Hibbert after a neat exchange of passes with William Hearne.

The game became something of a midfield battle as with so much at stake both sides seemed afraid to commit bodies forward, making chances hard to come by.

Liam Ansell had one of the rare openings but his reverse stick shot from the left of the D was beaten away by Chris Hibbert. With moments left in the half Tom Sorsby slid in at the far post but his shot could only find the side netting.

Immediately after the break Southgate forced their first penalty corner. Rick Gay’s fierce drag flick hit the man on the line and a penalty stroke was awarded. Gay took it himself and beat Jamie Cachia with a pacy flick to the goalkeeper’s right. On 47 minutes Andrew Westbrook was fouled in the D by Mike Shaw and another stroke was awarded. Gay stepped up again and this time went the same way, but into the top corner to beat Cachia again. With Sheffield reeling it was game over just a minute later. Callum Burden stabbed home from close range after a cross from the left was mistrapped by a Sheffield defender.

Vicky Joel’s side had the look of a beaten team about them as the clock ticked down. Despite their efforts to force their way back into the game it wasn’t happening for them in the final third. With seven minutes left, it could have been even worse for Hallam as another penalty stroke was awarded. This time, Gay’s radar was off and he sent the chance wide.

It mattered little to the end result and Southgate were able to celebrate their return to the top flight after one season’s absence. For Sheffield it is back to the drawing board as they now have to wait for the outcome of Cardiff vs Brooklands to see if they live to fight another day.

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