Buckingham LHC’s first team made a storming start to the end-of-season play-offs when they thrashed Brooklands Manchester University 4-0 on Saturday.
With Holcombe and Sutton Coldfield drawing in the other game, this was the perfect start for Buckingham as they target promotion to the top tier of English hockey.
Surprisingly, despite being play-off regulars over the last few seasons, it was Buckingham who made an uncharacteristically nervy start as they made numerous basic errors, forced the play and struggled to pass the ball with any accuracy or purpose.
Eventually, though, they found their feet and settled into the game, wrestling control of territory and possession to put Brooklands on the back foot.
Though an initial couple of penalty corners were saved, captain Zoe Shipperley rifled the ball home from Buckingham’s third penalty corner in the 21st minute to give Buckingham the lead. With the nerves now calmed, it was not long before Buckingham made the most of their ascendancy.
A sweeping, length of the pitch passing move involving Shipperley, Katrina Nicholson and Jess Bloom resulted in Jo Ellis spectacularly firing the ball into the roof of the net to make the score 2-0 with 27 minutes gone. Despite creating a number of other opportunities before the break, the ladies could not add to the score.
With an emphasis to keep the ball moving and to be ruthless if the opportunities arose, Buckingham began the second half well, immediately forcing their opponents onto the back foot.
With Player of the Match Nicholson causing havoc with her pace and skill, she first earned a penalty corner and created another great chance for Alex Naughalty that was well saved inside the first five minutes of the half.
It was not long before she was on the score sheet when she scored a superb individual goal. She rounded three or four would be tacklers before finishing with a fantastic reverse stick strike with just nine minutes played.
Buckingham remained relentless for the rest of the match as they continued to dominate proceedings. The Brooklands keeper made a string of fine saves to keep the score at 3-0 while Anna Searle and her defence comfortably dealt with the two or three counters that came their way.
The final ten minutes saw Buckingham camped in the Brooklands half as they went in search of more goals, and it was Ellis who made it 4-0 with five minutes remaining. She scored her second with a sharp finish from a penalty corner rebound.
With just two minutes to play, Shipperley forced another fine save from the Brooklands goalkeeper who somehow managed to push her powerful strike onto the crossbar and although Buckingham were awarded another penalty corner on the final whistle, Brooklands blocked the shot and the umpires blew for full time.
The 4-0 victory was a fantastic start to the play-off tournament but, having won their first play-off game for the last two years, the squad are well aware that there is still much work to be done.
However, this result and the draw in the other fixture means that Buckingham are well set to continue their promotion challenge at the Investec Women’s Hockey League Finals weekend at Reading on the April 12 and 13.