Investec Women’s Championship Playoffs Semi Final: Canterbury 2-0 Clifton.

Goals from Eliza Brett and Anna Baker were enough to give Canterbury a 2-0 win over Clifton to take their place in the Investec Women’s Championship Playoff Final tomorrow. Brett struck in the eighth minute whilst Baker, as she did in the league meeting between the two sides, sealed the win with the second in the 43rd minute.

Brett’s goal was the first meaningful effort on target as captain Grace Balsdon broke down the right and reached the baseline before finding Brett at the back post to provide a simple finish to take the lead.

Clifton hit back with a lovely flowing move resulting in Vicky Roper clean through with just Helen Fagg to beat. The Canterbury keeper tracked her well and made a fine block. With two minutes left in the quarter Balsdon had a drag flick well saved by Caitlin Jeffries diving to her right.

At the start of the second quarter Clifton had a great chance to level the scores. A cross from the left found its way through to Lucy McKee at the back post and despite managing to put Fagg on the ground, the goalkeeper was up quickly to block with her body. From  a resulting penalty corner Fagg threw herself to her right well to turn a fierce shot from Harriet Pearce round the post.

Canterbury were forced into a defensive reshuffle as Balsdon was yellow carded and then straight away Mel Clewlow left the field with blood streaming from her hand after a typically brave challenge. Zoe Leach set up Jo Leigh as Canterbury were still trying to adjust but again, Fagg raced from her goal to make a superb save.

In the third quarter the Kent side struck a decisive blow. Jen Wilson crossed from the right and despite the attentions of the Clifton defence, Baker seized possession and fired a shot on the turn into the goal via Jeffries’ pads, though the goalkeeper may feel she could have done better. Chances were scarce for the remainder of the quarter, thanks largely to some outstanding defending from Clifton’s Harriet Pearce who seemed to be everywhere to mop up Canterbury’s attacks.

The final quarter was much more open with Clifton throwing caution to the wind in an attempt to get back into the contest, whilst Canterbury exploited the gaps left at the back. Brett had a great chance to sew things up. Kim Young and the No8 caught Clifton on the break. Young threaded the ball through to Brett but Jeffries was out quickly to make a fine block. Leach was causing plenty of problems with her direct running ensuring Clewlow, bandaged up and back in the fray was forced to make a series of crucial tackles to keep Clifton at bay. With four minutes left Clifton forced two penalty corners in succession. Both were slipped to the left to Els Mansell but both were well saved by Fagg who was having a fine game. With time running out, Jen Wilson took the ball into the corner to run the clock down and ensure Canterbury got over the line and into tomorrow’s final.

A delighted Grace Balsdon told The Top of the D: “The girls did an excellent job on the pitch today. Defence has been a big emphasis for us this season. Clean sheets are important and another today gave us a good chance to get the win. Mel Clewlow’s hard as nails and having her come back out despite getting injured really inspired us. We have plans for both potential opponents for tomorrow so we’ll see who we get and deal with that once we know who we’re playing.”

Canterbury await the winner of Reading vs Surbiton whilst Clifton will play off for third and fourth place.

About thetopofthed

Columnist for The Hockey Paper and the man behind The Top of the D. Writer, podcaster, goalkeeper and BBC Sport man. Used to work for Great Britain Hockey and have covered the sport at every major tournament.
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