Felix Denayer’s strike six minutes before half time continued KHC Dragons’ extraordinary love affair with the EHL as they squeaked past HC Rotterdam in a tense game in front of the typically noisy Dragons crowd. Although Denayer’s goal proved the difference, the win was in no small part down to goalkeeper Manu Leroy who had an inspired day between the posts for the Belgian outfit.
Rotterdam forced no less than seven penalty corners but star flicker and all-time leading EHL marksman Jeroen Hertzberger just could not get the better of Leroy. The best chance of a tight first quarter fell to Bjorn Kellerman but the Rotterdam No9 could not keep his snapshot on target and it fizzed just wide. Dragons came into the contest more and more as the second quarter wore on with Mathew Cobbaert forcing a good save from Pirmin Blaak before Loick Luypaert brought the best out of the goalkeeper who got a strong glove to the ball to repel his penalty corner.
With the clock ticking towards half time Dragons broke free down the right through Louis Rombouts. His cross seemed to be behind the first man, but Denayer had pulled away to near the top of the D and slapped home an unerring finish giving Blaak no chance.
After the break Rotterdam had the lion’s share of the chances with Kellerman seemingly having a personal battle with Leroy. First the No9 hit a fierce reverse stick shot across the goal that the Beligans’ keeper did well to turn away, then Leroy kept out Bas Campbell before pulling off another save at his near post from Kellerman once again.
The final quarter was edge of the seat stuff as Dragons, roared on by a noisy sea of red on the far side fought tooth and nail to keep Rotterdam at bay. Hertzberger had his first penalty corner chance but his flick went straight down the middle and Leroy saved. Reinoud Wolff’s side continued to press forwards with wave after wave of attacks but Leroy stood firm, again blocking at the near post from Kellerman. Rotterdam forced a penalty corner in the dying moments but again Leroy was equal to the task, saving from Hertzberger and then snaking out a left leg to block the follow up from Kellerman. Hertzberger had one more penalty corner chance but he seemed to scuff his flick and Florent Van Aubel swept it clear to a huge roar from the Dragons’ fans.
Since their debut in the competition in 2010/11 they have reached quarter finals, finished third and last year finished second. Something about the competition brings out the best in Jaen Willems’ team. Will they go one better than last year and take home the trophy?