Aldershot and Farnham Hockey Club head coach Ian Jennings says his side have room for improvement after opening the season with a 2-2 draw against Tunbridge Wells.
The Shots fell 2-0 behind at Heath End School, but showed good character to battle back and get a share of the spoils.
Jennings felt his side could have started the game better, but was pleased with their reaction to falling behind.
“I thought we were slow out the blocks and the game was being played at a pace we weren’t used to,” he said.
“Tunbridge Wells finished second last year and we’re expecting to get promotion this year. They deserved to go 1-0 up, but after the first 15 minutes I felt we grew into the game and were extremely unlucky to go 2-0 down.
“However, the work we had put in for the first 55 minutes paid dividends in the last 15 and we were probably unlucky to only get a draw. It was definitely one of those game we should have won but could quite easily have lost.
“We remained positive in our communication with each other, our discipline was generally very good and we maintained our structure and believed in the process.
“I thought Phil Rushmere had an outstanding game but was backed up by other quality performances in James Treadwell and Chris Boot.
“All of our youngsters – of which we have four 16-year-olds – acquitted themselves well and showed they can play at this level.”
Aldershot and Farnham were playing their first game in the South East Premier League – one league below the national leagues – having been promoted in five of the previous six seasons.
The home side had lost several players from the 2021-22 squad, but gained four new players – Daan Baron and Zac Chinn, who bring significant experience of high-level hockey, and two young talents in Connor Wilkinson and Paddy Cradden.
It was evident immediately that Tunbridge Wells had highly skilled, fast and competitive hockey players who were well drilled as a team.
They looked to imposed their direct style of play and aggressive defence on the match immediately, pressurising hard in midfield and using their rapid and skilful forwards to good effect.
The hosts, with several players playing in new positions, kept their discipline and shape, with the midfield combination of Boot and Treadgold effectively linking the defence and attacking players despite the significant pressure exerted by the opposition.
Tunbridge Wells deservedly took the lead from a short-range attempt, but Aldershot and Farnham responded with a period of sustained pressure, creating numerous chances, often the result of well-coordinated pressure.
This was mainly exerted by the forward line, well marshalled by Rushmere, who seemed tireless, as did Weston, who was a constant threat down the right.
Chinn looked dangerous in front of goal and despite several short corners – one of which drew a quite superb save from the Tunbridge keeper – the hosts were 1-0 down at half time.
The second half started much as the first had, with a pace that Aldershot and Farnham had not experienced in the lower leagues.
The home side remained a threat, but were caught on the break and went 2-0 down as Tunbridge showed the clinical finishing skills Aldershot and Farnham had lacked in the first half.
Aldershot and Farnham maintained faith in their structure and processes – rapidly moving the ball to tire the opposition and draw them out of position and maintaining a high press to prevent them from easily exiting their defensive area.
Frost got himself into a perfect position only to miss by a fraction but, with 15 minutes to go, Groves pulled a goal back to make it 2-1. The equaliser soon arrived when Scott Perry produced a searing drag-flick from a short corner.
Tunbridge Wells pushed for a winner, but Baron made several crucial interceptions and 16-year-old Wilkinson nullified his dangerous opponent.
Despite two late short corners, the score remained 2-2.