TRUE GRIT TO GRIND OUT A POINT
Highwaymen share spoils in derby day deadlock
Anybody expecting a "tractor style" derby between BEHC's lowest ranked men's teams in the agricultural surroundings of Kent Open Division 3 would have been very pleasantly surprised by this offering at Blackheath High School. The match greatly exceeded its billing and was watched by a sizeable double-digit crowd in blustery conditions on an unforgiving surface. The customary super-slick astroturf with a sandpaper finish that removes knee skin quicker than a potato peeler was made more hazardous after the previous night's heavy rain, with clumps of slimy grit making life even tougher than usual. At times it seemed that the pantomime season had started early with auditions being run for "Bambi on ice" as various luminaries lost their footing and bit the dust ... or swallowed the grit ... but eventually everybody found their feet and delivered a veritable hockey classic.
That a tightly contested and low scoring match ended all square was in no small part down to the men of the match from both teams - the two goalkeepers, who were only beaten by a penalty flick and a deflected short corner respectively. That proceedings remained goalless for nearly 50 minutes had more to do with their heroics than any lack of action in the two Ds, although the "visiting" keeper was the busier of the two. With a sizeable squad, lots of young legs, squad rotation aplenty and a victory against the table-toppers a week earlier, the Dynamos were clearly in confident mood and there was nothing between the teams in an even first half, where the visitors could perhaps have taken the lead at the far post from a cross from the left. But the hosts were magnificent from 1-14 in an attacking 3-4-3 formation, where the three-pronged strike force of Pat Gainey, Graham Green and Ravi Wickramasuriya (a very neat little tactical twist from match day manager, Mark Ainley) gave the Dynamos defence plenty to think about, as the game gradually got about as stretched as an Eastenders' script. With Highwaymen stalwarts Greg Dowse and Richard Cleall returned to their more familiar midfield births out wide and just in front of the defence, the team had plenty of balance too. Unfortunately the team's star man Ali Burnett was carrying a leg injury which forced him to sit out a third of the action, but at least the hosts were able to call on the considerable talents of loanee substitute Harry Southgate who needed no second invitation to line up against his dad.
The team defended well from the front, although special credit has to go to the regular back three where Steve Miller and Phil Kinch once again excelled, putting everything on the line to protect their stand-in keeper. The home team eventually went ahead courtesy of a stonewall penalty flick, both earned and converted by Ali Burnett, and it was no more than they deserved for their endeavours after the break. Keeper Paul Whitney kept everything at bay, despite patrolling his D with all the elegance of a camel wearing cricket pads after taking an overdose of laxatives. He was only eventually beaten with five minutes to go by a deflected short corner from visiting skipper Chris Brown, who nearly won it for the men in white in the last minute when another goal-bound effort from a short corner was deflected round the left-hand post to leave it all-square at the final whistle. Both teams could have won it, so a draw was probably a fair reflection over the full 70 minutes, but the real winner was the Club and the game of hockey, as the reds and the whites served up an excellent game of hockey which suggests that there is plenty of life at the older and younger ends of the BEHC senior hockey spectrum.
So what could be learnt from the first Division 3 derby in nearly three years? After much of the misplaced pre-match hype from the Dynamos' camp regarding the age, fitness and focus of the Highwaymen, the game was definitely a moral victory for the home team, who never flagged, ran out of steam or looked to be an average of nearly 40 years per man older than their opponents - quite the contrary. However, the Dynamos are likely to get better as the season progresses, so it is to be hoped that they can get positive results against the likes of Holcombe and Burnt Ash to assist both BEHC entities in this particular league.
It was therefore a case of true grit indeed from the Highwaymen who rode off into the sunset in true John Wayne fashion ... next stop the Polo Farm and Canterbury.
Paul Whitney, tim walters, Steve Miller, Phil Kinch, Chris Bernard, Richard Cleall, Ravi Wickramasuriya, Greg Dowse, Harry Southgate, Pat Gainey, sammy chana, Ali Burnett, Graham Green and Stephen Gilbert (C).
Paul Whitney - truly a star Club man making his debut as a goalkeeper and getting the M-o-M award based on merit, not sentiment.
Steve Laden and Charlie Nelson did the honours and kept the game moving brilliantly, hence the end-to-end nature of the resulting action. Good humour and communication from both of them made the game all the more enjoyable.