County Championship Preliminary Tournament 2016

On 7th and 8th May, newly promoted Nottinghamshire travelled to Woking Hockey Club to try and achieve their primary objective, retain Division B hockey for next season.

The heat meant it was going to be hard – after all, many of these players had just completed tough league campaigns and long cup runs, and also drawn in a group that contained the two relegated Division A sides from last season, but after a successful training & selection process and a couple of warm up games confidence was high.

Notts first game of the weekend was against Shropshire, one of last seasons relegated A division sides and strongly tipped to bounce straight back up.

Notts Skipper Adam Innocent goes agonisingly close against Shropshire

Notts started strongly and could have had the prefect start, but Skipper Adam Innocent’s cheeky lob agonisingly scraped the wrong side of the Shropshire post after only a few minutes.

The game was finely balanced and Shropshire had several good changes of their own. It was, however, Sam Dixon who would find the net first for Notts to put them one up at the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter saw some more finely balanced hockey but as the temperature by the pitch reached 30C and against the run of play, Shropshire pulled level with a nicely crafter penalty corner with just 30 seconds remaining in the half.

Notts reacted well and, just before half time, a quick free hit from Charlie Brooke caught the Shropshire defence napping and allowed Sam Dixon to get his second of the game.

Sam Dixon scores just before half time

A cruel rebound off the post, early into the second half, helped Shropshire pull back level and the scoreline remained 2-2 at the end of the third quarter.

Shropshire took the lead at the start of the third quarter, only to have that cancelled out by Sam Dixon, completing his hat-trick, almost immediately, following up the rebound from his own drag-flick. Adam Henfry then put Notts ahead with a superb reverse stick strike.  With the clock running down Shropshire reverted to the long ball game and it eventually reaped rewards when they equalised for the last time with only seconds remaining.

A great showing by all accounts for Notts, but it was the highly tipped Shropshire who were more happy with the point at the end.

Notts second game of the Saturday was against Bedfordshire, the other relegated A division County last season.

Some good early pressure for Notts but it was Bedfordshire that ended the first quarter in front by a single goal.

Notts were unlucky again when a bungled Penalty Corner routine led to disarray on both sides and allowed Bedfordshire to score again, leaving Notts two down at half time.

Charlie Brooke surges through the Bedfordshire defence

Notts were having all the territory and possession though, and it was only a matter of time before David Ebbage would finally pull a goal back for Notts.  Then followed a long period of sustained possession for Notts around the Bedfordshire goal.  They hit the keepers face-mask and the cross bar within seconds of each other and it was only what they deserved when a great run from Ryan Day gave him time to pick out Adam Innocent unmarked on the penalty spot. He finished calmly to bring Notts level at the end of the third quarter.

A defensive lapse early into the final quarter saw Bedfordshire pull back in front. But Notts weren’t going to allow these points to slip away as they had in the earlier game.  Sam Dixon fired a rocket past the Bedfordshire keeper with just minutes to go to draw level, before a quick free hit by Josh Singleton to Adam Innocent split the Bedfordshire defence. He then moved the ball on quickly to Sam Dixon, who coolly rounded the Bedfordshire keeper to put Notts ahead with just seconds to go. Final score, Notts 4-3 Bedfordshire.

The end of day one and, with 4 points, Notts had all but achieved their primary objective.  Never in recent history had a team been relegated with 4 points.  With other results in this incredibly tight division also going their way, Notts actually found themselves topping the group at the end of the first day.  No game had been settled by more than a single goal, underlining just how tightly it was balanced.

Day 2, even hotter weather (measured at 34C on the pitch) and Notts first game was against Surrey, the County that Notts lost to in last seasons Division C final.  Notts were looking for revenge, but in the end it was the home County that used their home advantage to the fullest.  It was incredibly tight at the beginning and the score remained at 0-0 at half time.

Notts keeper Chris Burton guides a Surrey forward wide

Surrey found the net early on in the second half from a penalty corner, but Notts’ Sam Dixon deftly glanced the ball in off the post from close range to pull the sides back level.  The heat and effort required in day one’s games started to take their toll on Notts now and they eventually lost out 5-1.

Notts final game loomed against long time Division B county Somerset.  Even though there was a mathematical chance that Notts could still make the finals the heat had taken it’s toll.

A scrappy first half saw Notts down 0-3 at half time.

Somerset apply pressure on the Notts goal

Somerset would extend that lead to 4-0 before Henry Godkin could pull a goal back for Notts.  Somerset extended their lead to 6-1 before Martk Northcott could pull another back, but it was Somerset that completed the scoring for the day to lead 7-2 at the final whistle.

So this season’s campaign is over.  Tired legs and a bit of sun-burn but well worth the prospect of Division B hockey next season and, who knows, the possibility of hosting and a slightly kinder draw could see Notts achieve next season’s target which is to reach the Play-off finals.

Notts 2016 Squad
Back Row : Sara Parr (Manager) James Wakeland, Sam Dixon, David Ebbage, Adam Henfry, Matt Orridge, Max Sowter, Ryan day, Oliver Matharu, Nathan Wakeland, Mark Northcott
Front row: Adam Innocent, Manny Soar, Josh Singleton, Josh Dixon, Charlie Brooke, Henry Godkin, Alex Davies, Amo Soar (coach)
Side: Chris Burton