Two goals from Buckingham captain Zoe Shipperley ensured the West Conference side finally take their place in the top flight at the fifth time of trying.
Having qualified for playoffs the last four seasons before this one and having missed out, it was starting to look like it might never happen for Buckingham, especially after their crushing defeat by Holcombe yesterday. However, a splendid defensive display and a brace from their inspirational skipper were enough to get them over the line, condemning Sutton Coldfield to relegation- the first premier league side to suffer that fate via the playoffs.
As you would expect with so much at stake their was a frantic feel about the game as both sides threw everything at each other in search of that vital opening goal. Buckingham exerted the early pressure with Jo Ellis producing a mazy run and fierce shot that Becky Batsford did well to keep out. Sutton saw off a couple of early penalty corner chances. First Shipperley’s effort was charged down and then Ellis was denied by Batsford but you sensed a goal was not far away. That goal came form Shipperley at a penalty corner, her slapped effort finding the bottom corner for a precious advantage.
Sutton had a corner of their own minutes before the end of the half but the pressure seemed to get to them as the ball was mis-trapped and the chance was wasted.
The second half adopted much the same pattern. Charlotte Cross went close for the Pinks but Anna Searle was alert and made a good save to preserve Buckingham’s lead.
As the clocked ticked down, Sutton’s attacks became more desperate as they sensed their Premier League status slipping through their fingers. Katrina Nicholson had a great chance to sew the game up but her spin and shot went agonizingly wide.
With five minutes left Sutton had a big chance as they forced another penalty corner. Again, the injection was off and again Buckingham were able to clear. Sutton took off goalkeeper Becky Batsford as a last throw of the dice but immediately conceded a penalty corner. Emma McCabe heroically blocked the first shot from Shipperley and then kicking back Gemma Brown somehow turned the follow up onto the bar to keep Sutton alive. With 20 seconds left it was all over. Buckingham forced a corner and this time Shipperley found the net to send Buckingham to the premier league, at last.
The two-goal hero told The Top of the D: “I don’t think it’s fully sunk in yet. Premier League’s been an aim of ours since we got to National League. It would have been nice if it hadn’t taken as four years but we’re so happy to have got there.When we lost yesterday it did cross my mind that it might happen again, but we knew we didn’t play well yesterday so we wanted to put it right today. Sutton are a great side but we knew if we played as we can we could do it. Buckingham as a Premier League side sounds pretty good!”
Sutton will now have to play in the conference next season after dropping out of the top flight, for Buckingham, it is mission accomplished at the fifth time of asking.