Last Wednesday Sussex Men’s 1st hockey team opened their league campaign with a disappointing 3-2 home defeat to a Surrey team which they clearly had the measure of for large periods of the match. If Sussex harbour desires for a successful season, they must quickly learn to be more clinical in front of goal and realise that such self-destructive defending will surely continue to prove costly.
On a miserable autumn afternoon at the Falmer Sports Complex, Sussex were hoping to fare better than they did last season against the same opposition; in both matches the University of Surrey Men’s 1st team won. However Sussex did not start the match looking like a team determined to avenge last year’s defeats; in fact they had to rely on desperate last ditch defending to keep Surrey at bay. Thankfully Sussex began to gain a foot hold in the match and due to the skill of key man Ross Hardwick they went on to take the lead; a cleverly rehearsed short corner routine resulted in Hardwick hitting a deft ‘drag lob’ that seemed to hang in the air for what seemed an eternity before hitting the bar and crossing the line.
Sussex should have then pushed on in the half to capitalise on their break through; instead it was Surrey who upped the ante and before long the scores were level at 1-1. A passage of play which saw Sussex have numerous opportunities to clear the ball ended with the ball being played across goal, followed by the simplest of finishes for a Surrey attacker. Worse was yet to come: with half-time looming Surrey’s number 13 picked up the ball in a forward position, turned Richard Maclennan too easily, before superbly finishing to put Surrey in front. This was tough on Sussex, for they had more than matched Surrey in the first half, and if it wasn’t for a rash flash across goal by Lloyd Francis when players were well placed, or if Will Row had been better placed when through on goal, they could have been level.
Sussex started the second half strongly and should have equalised immediately, but unfortunately a clearly unfit Henry Milton could not convert a gilt-edged opportunity right in front of goal. Luckily Sussex did not have to wait long for their next chance and after a scramble in the Surrey shooting circle, the ball fell to fresher Nick Blumson who showed great composure to whack the ball past the Surrey keeper to make it 2-2. The joy on the Sussex players’ faces was evident and it seemed there was only going to be one winner from then on.
Sadly this joy was short lived and the Sussex defence had clearly not learnt their lesson from the first period. They allowed a Surrey midfielder to outdo three of them and cross to the back post where any one of the three unmarked Surrey players could have scored. One duly did and Sussex found themselves behind again 3-2.
Regrettably the score did not change and for a period after Surrey scored it seemed Sussex were not going to make a fight of it; thankfully this did not stay the case and they managed to get their act together to finish the game strongly. With Hardwick at the heart of most good Sussex moves they started to make inroads at the Surrey defence once they became confident in hitting the ball around and going wide as soon as possible. A few good chances went begging and they could not quite force what would have been a deserved equaliser.
Sussex can take credit from what was a spirited opening performance of the season against a team that finished second in their league last season (one place higher than Sussex). However they must iron out bad mistakes and be more confident in front of goal for this season to be a truly memorable one.