Brace from Bowles bags bountiful booty
Highwaymen grind out a first ever win in Folkestone
Folkestone Optimists Men's 7s 1 BEHC Highwaymen 3
This was never going to be an easy fixture against a talented and "experienced" Folkestone team which simply refuses to draw (both winning and losing six matches before Saturday's fixture) and plays at a venue where the Highwaymen had never previously won, their only reward being a hard-fought draw just over twelve months ago. The game followed a very similar pattern to the October match earlier in the season, where the Highwaymen worked themselves into a seemingly comfortable lead, to only then find themselves pegged back to a nervous single goal advantage which lasted for over half the game, before making sure of the points late on, this time via a 3-1 rather than a 4-2. Mercifully a further parallel with the autumn prequel was avoided when keeper Tom Conway actually made it onto the field of play without suffering any injury preventing his participation like last time. In the event he played well, albeit in a rather underemployed fashion, and could do little about the sole occasion when the ball did beat him for Folkestone's goal.
For a change manager Mark Ainley had an embarrassment of riches at his disposal in defence and was able to field Steve Miller, Phil Kinch, Chris Bernard and Lorcan Green in defensive roles, whilst deploying the otherwise defensively-minded David Maltman in a speedy left-wing forward role which he filled with aplomb once the effects of early frostbite had worn off. In the absence of regular striker Pat Gainey it was down to the alternative speed-merchants, sammy chana and captain Stephen Gilbert, to inject some pace into proceedings in the final third on a surface made rather tricky by incessant drizzle, a fierce wind and generally inclement conditions.
The visitors shaded the opening exchanges but found the going tough in terms of creating any worthwhile openings, so it was no surprise when the deadlock was broken by a quick combination of perseverance and class, Graham Green's tenacity in the D eventually leading to the ball breaking to Steve Bowles who curled a great shot round the keeper into the bottom right-hand corner. When he repeated the dose ten minutes later it was the midfield duo of Andy Rose and Ravi Wickramasuriya who provided the catalyst for another great strike, and it seemed that there might at last be some calm in the stormy conditions. Up until then the Optimists had not managed a solitary shot on target, but a dreadfully sloppy cross-field pass in the opposition's half yielded possession, a four-man breakaway and a very smartly-taken goal by the hosts two minutes before the interval gave the home side a huge lift for the second half.
The Highwaymen could have had no complaints if Folkestone had evened the scoreboard up during the third quarter, as the home side bossed possession and the men in red looked strangely out of sorts. True, they only conceded the one penalty corner throughout, but the team looked very poor in terms of keeping possession and regaining any element of control in the game, displaying all the retention skills of an incontinent whale in the process. Eventually, however, the tide started to turn as the men from BEHC at last began to follow the manager's mantra of stretching the game wide. Suddenly the pace and energy of Lorcan Green on the right - showing some nice game management skills in running down the clock late on - and Greg Dowse on the left started to punch holes in the home team's defensive cover, and it was the later who finally decided matters just past the hour mark. A neat pull-back from the left found the Highwaymen's perennial man-of-the-match Richard Cleall in acres of space in a central position, from where he slotted an excellent ball into Greg Dowse's path in the D. He still had plenty to do in terms of sliding it past the unsighted keeper from an angle on the left, but it was a well-taken effort which was just what the doctor ordered. The team was able to see out the last few minutes with no relapses and secure a very valuable three points as a result.
Fluent and attractive it was not, but the display showed resilience and spirit in abundance from the whole team who should feel good about their new-found ability to occasionally win ugly ... and this one came straight off Frankenstein's slab. Half-term always has a habit of throwing up some odd results, and this week was no exception, with Maidstone conceding their fixture to the Dynamos and Herne Bay falling to a surprise defeat at bottom team Old Bordenians ... who just happen to be the Highwaymen's next opponents at the end of half-term week. So Saturday's win down at the coast was indeed a very valuable three-point haul.
And last not least ... well done to the match officials, the true unsung heroes of Kent Open Division 3 hockey. Thank you.
Tom Conway, tim walters, Steve Miller, Phil Kinch, Lorcan Green, Richard Cleall, Ravi Wickramasuriya, David Maltman, Chris Bernard, Greg Dowse, Andy Rose, Graham Green, Steve Bowles, sammy chana and Stephen Gilbert (C).
Richard Cleall - exuded calm in the cold, cloudy, chaotic conditions. True redemption at a venue that has not always been kind to him in the past.
Both officials (or rather "all three" as there was an injury substitution for one of them) were provided by Folkestone and were absolutely excellent, assisted in part by some very sporting behaviour throughout from both teams. Hats off therefore to all the umpires who will hopefully shake off their early symptoms of severe hypothermia quite quickly.