Harleston Magpies 3 Holcombe 2

England Hockey League

Men’s Conference East

THE opening game of the 2011/12 National League Conference East saw Magpies host the big spending and league favourites Holcombe from Kent. Magpies had lost no less than six of last years squad for various reasons but had been bolstered by the arrival of Seb Knights from Stourport and also Mark Stackpoole but more significantly by the promotion to the side of some of the most promising young players the club has seen for five years.

Holcombe by contrast had brought in two ex England internationals from Premier league clubs and also acquired the services of Magpies goalkeeper Richard Harmes who had moved back to the South Coast, he however was not selected for the game.

The Magpies team was further weakened this week by the injuries to two other senior players however coach Bill Williams and manager Robert Stimpson have prepared the squad well and were fully focussed on the tough challenge posed by Holcombe. A good crowd was present to cheer on the side which is always welcome and makes for a difficult atmosphere for the visitors.

The game itself started at a good pace with excellent opportunities for both sides including a close miss for Wright following great counter attacking play by the new frontline. After further exchanges the visitors took the lead with a well executed penalty corner on 18 minutes after skilful work from their right sided players.

Magpies responded well to this set back and the work rate was first rate by young and old. The home team were rewarded with three penalty corners in the latter stages of the first half, the last of which was converted expertly by Wright to bring the home side level with only two minutes to half time. This gave coach Williams added emphasis when demanding another hard working 35 minutes knowing only more of the same would be allow Magpies to build on such an excellent first half against dangerous opponents.

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The team responded to his words and by putting excellent pressure upon a weak defence Magpies put together two great second half minutes to give Ben Wright, who was such a handful for Holcombe all game, a first of the season hat-rick and Magpies a 3-1 lead.

The second goal came from great work by new man Stackpoole combing well with Leate and the ever present Gill who delivered a perfect ball for his young forward to carefully direct into the bottom left hand corner of the net. The hat-rick was completed only a minute later after the energised left back Bedwell dispossessed his man before combining down the left to deliver another sweet cross which the grateful Wright cut square into the opposite corner of the goal.

The visitors had just under 30 minutes to respond and they drove forwards time and time again in search of goals but were continually rebuffed by a solid Magpies defence and the holding man Gill.

For all their talent the visitors could not match the team play and work ethic of this new Magpies side, something that is expected from all those who play for the club, and Holcombe became more and more frustrated with themselves and the officials. With the clock ticking down however the pressure from the away side finally told with a second well taken penalty corner that set up a tense last few minutes. Despite the Magpies keeper being forced into two key saves late on the home side held on for a famous opening day victory, one which will make everyone involved with the club very proud of this young side.

Holcombe will take a positive from last years league winners Southgate, who were also beaten on the opening day by Magpies, but will go away with much to think about. Ben Wright will take most of the accolades on the day for scoring such important goals but it is the silent heroes of Richard Gill and David Ling who surely made this a match winning performance.

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