Wednesday, 03 March 2021

Hosts suffer penalty shoot-out heartache

HENLEY lost out on penalties to Epsom in a thrilling Masters’ Over 40s National Championship clash at Jubilee Park.

Playing at the highest echelons of masters’ cup hockey for the first time this year, Henley proved they can compete successfully at this level having executed a highly impressive 7-2 demolition of previous finalists, Indian Gymkhana, in the previous round.

With a squad including many current first team players, as well as former internationals and ex-national league stars Nico Jean-Jean, Rhys Joyce and Richard Woolfrey, Henley had high hopes of progressing to the semi-finals but knew Epsom would provide a tough test.

Both sides started briskly, each aiming to get the measure of their opposition. Epsom focused on possession in the opening minutes, but Henley defended patiently and began to build attacking moves through the talented and hard-working midfield of Joyce and Jean-Jean.

The Henley defence looked sharp against some dangerous Epsom attackers, with Robbie Mortimer and Rowan Austin marking tightly and tackling hard, distributing the ball to James Baker and Dan Herbert on the flanks to drive forwards.

With both sides well matched and battling hard, the game became attritional but with the skill of Chris Green and Jody Measures up front, Henley started to win penalty corners. At the stroke of the half-time whistle, Jean-Jean took Henley into a 1-0 lead with a perfectly positioned lofted strike which rattled the backboards.

As the second half progressed, both sides started to tire from the intensity of the match and play started to stretch across the pitch. While Henley started to show their skill as the better side, increasing fatigue meant execution became more haphazard.

Goalkeeper Dave Bowyer was called upon to make some fine saves to keep the increasingly rare Epsom attacking moves at bay, but the visitors managed to level the scores after a neat move slipped behind the Henley defence to leave a simple finish.

Henley continued to show their class, winning a series of penalty corners. The industrious Jody Measures launched a mazey run to win one corner, with Joyce pouncing on the resulting rebounded shot to take Henley to a 2-1 lead with just three minutes remaining.

With Epsom throwing everything up front, Henley reciprocated by throwing everything in defence, calmly soaking up pressure. However, with just 30 seconds on the clock Epsom scrambled the ball into the Henley area, a sharp finish evading the efforts of Bowyer to take the scores level to 2-2 at full time.

With no extra time, the match would be decided on penalty strokes. In a nail-biting finish, the scores were still level from the first five strokes, with Epsom missing the target with two, and Henley having two saved by the goalkeeper – one save preventing a Henley victory.

As the strokes moved into sudden death, again nothing separated the sides as both successfully scored all five with composure – although there was one moment of controversy as Bowyer made a good save, but the umpires ruled that the stroke had to be re-taken, as he was judged to have moved off the goal line before the ball was played.

The final round of strokes ended with Epsom scoring their first stroke, but Henley had theirs saved to see the visitors progress to the last four of the competition.

Henley Over 40s: Dave Bowyer, Rowan Austin, Robbie Mortimer, Dan Herbert, James Baker, Rob Church, Nico Jean-Jean, Rhys Joyce, Chris Green, Jody Measures, Richard Woolfrey, Paul Chedzey, Ian Roberts, Richard Nicholson.

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