Aldershot and Farnham head coach Ian Jennings was “immensely proud” of his side after they drew 2-2 at Holcombe’s second team in hockey’s South East Premier Division last Saturday (March 4).
The point was an impressive result for the Shots at the league’s second-placed team.
“I’m immensely proud of what the guys achieved, especially as we went into the match with four key personnel missing and players having to play out of position,” said Jennings. “The way they conducted themselves and stuck to the task was very rewarding in so many different ways.
“The youngsters are really starting to put in solid performances and things are now starting to finally sink in. The result was a fair one and no more than we deserved.”
A&F were pressed hard from the off and couldn’t make inroads in the opening exchanges. A&F defended well, but Holcombe got the rub of the green as a tackle rebounded into the path of their midfielder. They picked out a forward in the D who calmly rolled the ball under Hamish Hall to take the lead.
A&F were missing some key players and having gone behind early it would have been easy for them to switch off. But they regained their composure and started to grow into the game, building through the lines to work their way from back to front. Chris Boot, on his return from injury, was the main playmaker and A&F were getting joy around the outside through Scott Perry and Stu Morhall. The final pass was the only thing missing as A&F couldn’t fashion clear-cut chances from their forays into the opposition D.
Eventually, they managed to make their good build-up play count. They won their first penalty corner of the game having stretched the Holcombe defence and Perry fired the drag flick into the top left-hand corner to restore parity.
A&F’s forwards made life difficult for the home defence. Josh Frost was getting into good positions in the forward line. Paddy Craddon followed his lead and was able to win the ball high up the field often, but A&F were a bit careless on the ball which meant a second goal evaded them.
Holcombe were a constant threat. Their experienced trio in midfield had fast hands and excellent close control. This was causing some problems for A&F, who were often doubling up on them to try to nick the ball back. Having been pushed back deep to compensate, A&F had penalty corners to deal with. Jamie Weston’s running was brave and committed, reducing the effectiveness of Holcombe’s routine.
However, despite Hall’s save from an initial flick, the ball fell back to the injector who lifted it into the goal before Hall or Kevin McCafferty on the line could react.
The home side won another penalty corner, but the routine broke down and a combination of Weston, Hall, Ed Rushmere and Conor Wilkinson scrambled clear under immense pressure to keep the score to 2-1 at half-time.
A&F started the second half well and went in search of another equaliser. The visitors won their second corner of the afternoon, and Perry fired into the top right corner to again restore parity.
Holcombe then pushed more players further up the pitch as they looked for a winner. A&F remained disciplined in defence, effectively using aerials to relieve pressure and regroup. Their compact structure restricted Holcombe to few chances and their solid penalty corner defence negated their routines.
A&F remained a danger on the break and a quick counter attack led to a penalty corner, but the keeper saved well from Perry down low.
Holcombe had the last big chance of the game when a stinging reverse hit was excellently diverted away by Hall to earn A&F a superb point against strong opposition.
With four games remaining this season, Jennings is targeting a strong end to the season.
“Our realistic target has always been a top-four finish and that is still very much our aim,” said Jennings.
“We continue to work hard at training and I refuse to take our foot off the pedal.
“The demands I put upon the players remains frighteningly high. However, the team ethos we have generated is extraordinary and the support in the team is exceptional and this is down to everyone involved trying to be the best version of themselves they can be. If that rubs off on other aspects of their life, then that is a double bonus.”