PENARTH HC 1-3 HC Zelina
Just 24 hours after suffering their heaviest defeat in recent memory, the Bears were back on the field at HC OKS-SHVSM Vinnitsa to take on Czech side HC Zelina, who had narrowly lost their opening fixture on day one. Zelina appeared a very different prospect to the hyper-efficient Belarusians that had summarily dismissed Penarth in game one, giving the Vale side hope that they would be able to employ their usual attacking style from the start.
Having survived a contention early penalty corner for the Croatians thanks to a timely block from captain Tom Haran, and a second immediately afterwards when goalkeeper Simon Comfort deflected the ball around the post, Penarth took play down to the other end of the pitch, establishing a base camp in Zelina’s half following good work down the left from Marcus Powell and Jack Jopson. The breakthrough refused to come, however, with Chris Baker twice going close from penalty corners, and a Haran fireball into the D only failing to get a touch to deflect it goalwards.
Before nerves could set in on the sidelines, the Bears suffered the setback they didn’t want, as Zelina used an aerial ball to relieve pressure, but setting their lone forward in a foot race with the defence before getting enough contact from a hopeful swing in the D to force the ball past Comfort and into the net.
The goal came close to the end of the opening quarter, and it didn’t take long for the Croatians to double their advantage, firing home from a penalty corner that many felt was harsh on Penarth. To their credit, the Vale side continued to take the game to their opponents, but still could not find the net, even when Zelina were temporarily reduced to ten men. The tables were turned late in the period, when Tyrone Moore was sin-binned for foul play, but the Bears held onto maintain the two-goal deficit at the half-time interval.
Again, once an early Zelina opportunity had been denied, Penarth set about taking control of the game, peppering the Croatian penalty area but, once more, without the final success their efforts deserved. Although the Bears weren’t getting the rub of the green with decisions, they refused to back down from their task and, with the game opening up throughout the third quarter, finally got themselves back in contention as David Joyce fired home from the left-hand side of the area.
Unfortunately, the hooter sounded too soon afterwards for Penarth to build on their new-found momentum, despite the efforts of both Phil Lane and Joe Thomas, and the Croats noticeably closed defensive ranks from the start of the final period, showing signs of suffering more in the soaring temperatures as they attempted to close down the lanes that Penarth had begun to open up after switching to a three-man forward line.
Aaron Fulton-Brown was denied a shooting chance when a Zelina defender ‘flopped’ to win a free hit under pressure in the D, before the Croatian ‘keeper was called into action twice in as many minutes, but there was no equaliser as the game ticked into its final minutes. Penarth’s pursuit of a share of the spoils - and two vital group points - was hampered when Haran was sent to the sin-bin, and the one-man disadvantage would eventually prove costly.
Having wasted two gilt-edged chances to draw level and similarly repelled Zelina’s efforts to put the game beyond reach – with Comfort again proving solid on penalty corners - the Bears were ultimately caught out as their rivals pushed forward in number and forced the ball home to make it 3-1 with the final whistle imminent.
Once again, the scoreline did not reflect the game as a whole, and Penarth can count themselves unlucky on numerous fronts as they lick their wounds ahead of Sunday’s final group game. Their opponents at 12.15pm local time (10.15am UK) will be Czech side TJ Plzen Litice who, by going down by four goals to the Belarusians, remain vulnerable to a good result for the Bears. Having picked up a bonus point from game two, a win over the Czechs would give Penarth third spot in Pool A, so there remains much to play for.
“It was a game of pleasing frustration – if there can be such a thing,” player-coach Ben Croxall admitted, “It was pleasing both to see how the boys responded after the result of the opening game and the way that they used the gameplan to take the game to Zelina, but equally frustrating not to get the result our performance deserved.
“Things didn’t always go our way, but the bottom line is that we were punished for mistakes at both ends of the pitch. We have to remember, however, that most of the team is new to European competition, and it usually takes a number of matches before you are comfortable playing at this level. Hopefully, we’ll continue to make progress over the remaining games and come away with a result we can be proud of.”
Updated 18:04 - 3 Jun 2017 by Craig Llewellyn
Regular reports from Vinnitsa will be posted on both the club’s official website (www.penarthhc.com} and Facebook pages, with live game updates appearing on its Twitter feed (@PenarthHockey).