NOW: Pensions Men’s Championship Playoff Final: Beeston 1-1 East Grinstead (3-1 after shootout.)

The ice cool George Pinner made himself the toast of Highfields as his heroic efforts in the shootout pushed Beeston to a dramatic win to take home the title from East Grinstead.

The two sides had been hard to separate all season, finishing on the same points in the league and so it proved to be the same story today as they played out a 1-1 draw over 70 minutes.

Beeston struck first in the match with a penalty corner after just five minutes. Sam Ward stepped up and fired a fantastic drag flick into the corner to Richard Potton’s left.
The game was something of a cat and mouse affair with both sides trying to stifle their opponents whilst also imposing themselves in attack. Ollie Willars and Stephen Lawrence mopped up all that East Grinstead could throw at them with some excellent defending nut with five minutes left in the quarter the defence was breached. A long through ball down the middle found its way to Andy Piper in the D and the former Lewes striker turned and fired a reverse stick shot past Pinner to make it 1-1.

The second quarter resumed much the same pattern as the first with chances at a premium as both sides defended brilliantly. Mark Gleghorne saw his low shot beaten away well by George Pinner at the back post and then Chris Proctor who had shown good skill to get into the D was seen off by a fine interception from Glenn Kirkham.

As the players started to tire the game opened up a bit more. Ward was kept out by a good sprawling save from Potton and then Pinner pulled off a stunning save to turn a piledriver form Ashley Jackson over the bar. Gleghorne forced another good Pinner save as the goalkeeper scrambled across the goal to see off his international teammate’s shot. East Grinstead hunted for a winner and Beeston’s defence was creaking under the pressure, but a combination of some incredible goalkeeping from Pinner and some stout defending from Stephen Lawrence ensured the game stayed level.

As the clock ticked down in the fourth quarter the game became frantic. David Condon had a great chance on the reverse to take the lead but his shot thudded into Pinner’s pads and then minutes later the goalkeeper snaked out a strong right foot to repel another good effort from the same player. With Pinner looking unbeatable and Beeston seemingly happy to take what they had the game went to shootout.

First up was Ashley Jackson. He drove in towards the goal but before he could move the ball to the side Pinner had swept it away with his stick and the chance was gone. Potton redeemed his teammate’s miss with an excellent plunging save to deny Harry Martin. Gleghorne calmly gave Grinstead the lead and then Dixon levelled it up with a lovely 360 degree spin and finish. Mark Pearn went next but with Pinner tracking him all the way the EG No3 ran out of time before he could slot home. Sam Ward took his chance with great confidence, slipping the ball through Potton’s legs to make it 2-1 and then Pinner  saved from Niall Stott with an almost exact replica of the save from Jackson. That left Ben Arnold with the chance to win it which he duly did, beating Potton with another spin and shot.

Pinner, the man of the hour said afterwards:

“I really enjoy the shootouts because I feel like they play to my strengths. you have to respect players like Jackson and Pearn but at the same time it’s up to the goalkeeper to impose yourself on them, which I wanted to try and do. I’ve done a lot of work with the England guys on the mental side and it looks like it paid off today.” He added “We’ve matched them stride for stride in the league and obviously they deserve a lot of credit for coming top on goal difference, but having beaten them twice and still finished second we really wanted to put one over on them today and get the trophy. We’re delighted.”

Beeston retain the trophy they picked up last season, and will be seeded first of the English clubs in next season’s EHL. For East Grinstead it was a tough loss to take, but they will console themselves with a return to European competition next season.

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