Late drama, controversy and a plethora of missed chances greeted Bridgnorth Men’s 1st XI as they went into the Halloween weekend hoping to avoid a scare against a North Stafford side that had only mustered one point all season. They couldn’t have wished for a better start, as midfield maestro James Speke put the Blues in front with just 5 minutes on the clock when his pin point penalty corner routine found the top corner of the North Stafford net. Stunned, the visitors looked to have crumbled and to have been half way up the M6 when a penalty stroke was awarded midway through the first half. Unfortunately, the ghosts of Bridgnorth past were set to haunt the pitch as the stroke was put wide of the left upright. Realising they had a chance to capitalise and respond, North Stafford looked to surge forward and performed a quick ‘smash and grab’ raid in the Blues’ circle when a well taken strike beat Man of the Match goalkeeper Ben Taylor and a rather fortuitous wide shot from a penalty corner was put into his own net by defender Andrew Speke. However, just as they started the first – they were about to finish the second. Fine interchanges between Ben James and Glen Thompson worked the opening for a final last-gasp chance at snatching a draw from the jaws of defeat. Being previously thwarted by the opposition ‘keeper, James Speke stepped up once more, deftly wrong-footing the visiting defence to send the equaliser screaming into the roof of the net to capture a point for the Blues and avoid a frightful defeat.
No such luck was had by the Men’s 2nds, who travelled to top-of-the-table West Bridgford with a host of young talent in their ranks. Despite this astounding array of talent, they came up against a streetwise West Bridgford side who hadn’t conceded a league goal this season. With their backs against the wall, the Bridgnorth side fought valiantly and despite their heavy 8-1 loss can boast, thanks to Jon Garbett – returning from injury, that they have breached the once impenetrable defence. Yet to pick up a point this season, it looks as though the 2nds will have to brace themselves for a long, hard winter.
Opening up the day’s home fixtures, the Men’s 3rds ran out comfortable winners against a mixed ability North Stafford side which offered very little in the way of attack. The hosts took the lead through a well taken finish by Joe Toulson after the North Stafford defence parted like the Red Sea to allow the midfielder room to dance past and pick his spot past a hapless goalkeeper. Despite their pressure, North Stafford were gifted a way back into the game after a penalty stroke was awarded as a result of some rather lacklustre defending. Whatever was in the half time water certainly worked and John Andrewartha, Rob Foster and stalwart Steve Parnham all found the net despite a very rigid defensive performance from the visitors. All of this action was presided over by ex-Great Britain and England player Craig Parnham.
Closing the day for the men’s section was the first Bridgnorth Derby of the season, where the 4th XI took on the 5ths. The table-topping 4th team fielded a strong line up against a youthful by cunning 5th XI side. Much like the weather, the game began as a frosty affair; both sides looking to make small gains on each other in the midfield and work the ball into wide channels. Through Oliver Pygott the 4ths took the lead – the midfielder was in the correct place to hammer home the opener after the ball was proceeding to scatter around the circle. In truth, the 5ths had the better chances throughout the game and had it not been for goalkeeper Adam Wheeler’s athletic prowess, they could have equalised and even taken the lead. Despite all of the pressure and chances by Robert Tait and Stuart Ward, the 5ths could not find their way past the man mountain – who helped the 4ths to their first clean sheet of the season, which led to frustration slowly setting in. Victory was confirmed when, in the dying seconds of the game, Will Fox-Davies rifled home the first penalty corner of the match to leave the 4ths top of the table and with the bragging rights of Bridgnorth – if only for a week!
Meanwhile, the 6th XI travelled to North Stafford to take on a side previously hammered on their travels to Bridgnorth. The ‘new-look’ home side fielded a selection of strong players, resulting in a physical and hard-fought contest. With the side torn apart through other playing commitments and availability issues, they struggled to grasp any firm stranglehold on the game, meaning North Stafford took full advantage – slotting in 3 goals in quick succession. When Ian Cole and Sam Whitney gave the Blues a glimmer of hope, it was left to Kev Heseltine to duly oblige to slam home the equaliser, ensuring that the Cricket Meadow side went home with a share of the spoils.
Completing the Men’s fixtures were the 7ths, playing at home against a depleted North Stafford side. The unbeaten 7th XI once again fielded a mixture of youth and young-at-heart players who have built an understanding and are beginning to develop a real whole team ethos of play. With an unfamiliar surface, North Stafford struggled to adjust to the grass pitch, while the Blues took full advantage, racing out as 8-2 winners. Goals from Ben Turner (2), Mark Turner, Chris Burroughs, Henry Jones, Will Leach, Reece Howells and George Childs ensured that the riot was complete and the team maintain their unbeaten run so far this year.
The Ladies’ section enjoyed mixed fortunes as they went toe-to-toe in their Shropshire Hockey League fixture at Bridgnorth Leisure Centre. With the 2nds chasing down 2nd place in the league and bragging rights, they had a lot to play for, while the 1sts looked to maintain their 100% start to the season with another victory. The 1sts started brightly and through the fine interchanges of play between Meg Birt and Jess Dwane, the Ladies 1sts took the lead – Meg Birt with an exquisite finish passed through the onrushing goalkeeper’s legs. The lead soon doubled as Kate Everitt-Smith honed in on a loose ball within the circle to fire it home through a crowd of bodies. The 1sts weren’t done there, Mel Hill scored twice to put the lead up to 4-0 at half time. Undeterred by the setback, the Ladies’ 2nds surged forward and but for a smart stop by goalkeeper Olivia MacKender, target forward Jayne Wright would have reduced the deficit. Gradually as the half wore on, the Ladies’ 2nds stepped toe-to-toe with their counterparts but for their hard work to be undone by a Louise Walker short corner carefully placed into the net and another fine finish by Meg Birt. Undeservingly, the Ladies 2nds finished the game 6-0 down but it doesn’t reflect the contest which was played in a light hearted and friendly fashion.
This week, the Men’s 1sts travel to Warwick University, while the Men’s 2nds entertain Stratford-upon-Avon (1.30pm). The Men’s 3rd XI travel to Stafford looking to re-gain top spot in the league, while the 4ths make the short journey to once again play club rivals Bridgnorth 6ths (4.30pm). The Men’s 5ths enjoy a gap-week, while the Men’s 7ths travel to Bloxwich hoping to continue their excellent run. Meanwhile, the Ladies’ 1sts make the short journey to rivals Telford and Wrekin 2nds and the Ladies 2nds look to bounce back at home to Wem and Market Drayton 2nds (3.00pm). All home games are played at Bridgnorth Leisure Centre.