Buckingham Hockey Club narrowly missed out on silverware at the weekend when they suffered an agonising 1-0 defeat to Clifton in their first ever appearances in the England Hockey Cup final.
Played at Lee Valley Hockey Centre in the Olympic Park, Buckingham went into the fixture missing a number of key players including captain and Great Britain player Zoe Shipperley, number one keeper Bella Williams, defender Lauren Thomas and Welsh international Becca Heywood.
In front of a large and vociferous crowd, Buckingham made a nervy start and it was Clifton shaded the early play as they flashed a sixth-minute penalty corner wide.
Despite their opponents having the better of both possession and territory, player of the match Alex Naughalty, playing out of position at centre back, was outstanding and Buckingham remained a constant threat on the counter with Phoebe Richards looking very lively and causing problems for the Clifton defence.
In the ninth minute, Buckingham came close from a penalty corner and the resulting rebound but the ball was scrambled clear.
Chances were few and far between but it was Clifton who made the breakthrough midway through the half when a sharp turn and shot found its way through a crowd of defenders and young goalkeeper Amy Cairns and into the net.
Clifton had the better of the remainder of the half but Cairns, making only her second appearance for the 1st XI in a competitive game, was equal to everything.
After making slight tactical adjustments at half-time, Buckingham started the second period really brightly and created a number of good chances in the opening spell and a swift counter resulted in Richards rounding the keeper and putting the ball into the net, only to have the goal frustratingly disallowed for a perceived foul in the build-up.
Shortly afterwards Richards was bizarrely sent to the sin bin by the same umpire and less than a minute later Abbie Brant followed her, much to everyone’s confusion.
Chances remained few and far between but Buckingham dug deep to hold on while down two players before launching a late assault on the Clifton goal, however despite some close shaves, they were unable to find the equaliser.
Coach Zak Jones said: “We are all obviously hugely disappointed with the result, but I am really proud of the girls and the performance.
“The girls who took the field were magnificent and really showcased what the squad and club is all about and demonstrated fantastic heart, passion and togetherness
“In all honesty, Clifton probably just about shaded the encounter, but the game could easily have gone either way and we remained in it right up until the final whistle.
“The fact that we created opportunities to draw level with just a couple of minutes to go shows the immense resilience and character of this group. I could not have asked for any more from the girls and I know that this experience will serve as motivation to want to play in more games of this magnitude in the future.”