Men's 1's vs. Ashford 1's
Men's 1's clinch the title!!!
Ashford (Middx) 1st XI 0, Winchester 1st XI 3
Winchester are the champions of South Premier League Div 2. They duly completed the victory of Ashford required to find their way back to the top regional division after a seventeen year absence. There have been many dark days since April 2000 including spells towards the bottom of Hants/Surrey Div 2, but under the guidance of coach Ben Hibberd, captain Chris Jackson and the support of Club Captain Stuart Swift, they had produced a squad capable of a sustained promotion challenge.
They arrived at Ashford still uncertain of promotion, let alone the title. With results of the lower teams in the division springing surprise after surprise over the closing weeks of the season, Ashford had the capability of spoiling Winchester's progression and leaving them in third place with Oxford University and West Hampstead capitalising on the two promotion positions.
Both sides were intent on attack and this resulted in a free-flowing game Mark Maunsell going close in the opening moments and Ashford firing wide a few moments later. It took Winchester's olympian, Rob Moore to open the scoring with a thunderous reverse hit strike on fifteen minutes after a good initial save from the Ashford keeper. One minute later the traveling Winchester supporters were bouncing again as Kent Langridge threaded the ball through to Isaac Hocking who also employed a reverse hit to find the corner of the net from a 45 degree angle.
Ashford, fighting for their Premier 2 existence, refused to lie down and threatened through a well-worked penalty corner routine and relied on Will Phillips to make a great saving block as an Ashford striker wound up to strike. Craig Simms and Kevin Boniface had to be at their best to deny any serious threat from the home team but keeper Caelen Dillon remained largely a first half spectator.
After the break the nature of the game changed as Ashford pushed forward and this left holes behind which Winchester exploited, especially Hibberd and Langridge high on the their right flank. They created many chances with Hocking and Moore to the fore, but the heroics of the Ashford keeper denied the pressure-relieving third goal and kept his team in the game. Winchester then became nervy, perhaps generated by their inability to convert so many chances, and errors crept in across every part of the field. Not helped by playing a period of the game with nine men, it was all hands to the pump defensively for a period of Ashford dominance. Keeper Dillon then won his spurs, making a great double save, putting the second strike over the bar with a stick deflection.
Winchester found their feet again and the rampant Ashford attacks subsided with about ten minutes remaining. It was left to promotion architect Ben Hibberd to deliver promotion certainty, a well executed penalty corner saw yet another Ashford keeper save, but Hibberd picked up the loose ball and roofed it to make it 3-0.
Winchester have genuine momentum as they achieve their third promotion in six years.