Brilliant Buckingham revive season with back-to-back wins in Manchester

Buckingham captain Zoe Shipperley
Buckingham captain Zoe Shipperley

Buckingham have reached the England Hockey Investec Women’s Cup final for the first time in the club’s history on a superb weekend for the team.

Buckingham made the trip up to Manchester in the knowledge that they faced a crunch double-header in the context of their season.

First, on Saturday, they took on Bowdon Hightown in a must-win match and battled hard to record a vital 2-1 win to keep their hopes alive of retaining their Investec Premier League status.

There were precious few opportunities in a tight and cagey opening quarter as Abbie Brant almost gave Buckingham the lead but couldn’t quite find the net from the tightest of angles.

The remainder of the half was a hard-fought, midfield battle with chances still at a premium, although the home side were awarded three penalty corners before the break but Buckingham stood firm.

The visitors conceded another penalty corner early in the second period but again it was well defended before Kat Nicholson fired over at the other end.

Buckingham endured a fifth penalty corner scare a few minutes later but when the home side were temporarily reduced to t10 players mid-way through the half, the visitors turned the screw, created pressure and opened the scoring through captain and player of the match Zoe Shipperley when, on 59 minutes, she followed up to score from close range after a fine attack down the left hand side.

Bowdon immediately levelled thanks to the the evergreen Tina Cullen but Buckingham would not be denied and despite being reduced to 10 players, they earned their third penalty corner of the half.

With just five minutes remaining, Aly Billington followed up the initial shot to score from close range and keep Buckingham’s slim survival hopes alive going into the final weekend of the season.

Twenty-four hours after the physical and emotional effort of that victory, Buckingham made the short tip from their hotel across Manchester to take on Brooklands.

This contest was to be more straightforward for the Stow-based side who broke the deadlock when a fine turn and shot from Abbie Brant was turned in by Leanne Grimsley on 26 minutes before debutant Tash James opened her account from close range as Brant once again played provider.

The girls started the second half well and nearly increased their lead in the opening minute but a cheap turnover in the attacking third coupled with some very poor defending saw the home side counter clinically to reduce the deficit.

Buckingham seemed a little shaken by this setback and it took them a while to get back into their stride, however a fine run from Nicholson resulted in James earning Buckingham’s first penalty corner of the game and from a well-worked routine, Brant deflected the ball home to restore the two goal lead.

Buckingham were now in cruise control and with player of the match Alex Naughalty to the fore, they began to play some free-flowing, attacking hockey.

Lauren Thomas duly made it 4-1 before Phoebe Richard unselfishly laid on the simplest of chances on a plate for James to tap home her second.

The superb 5-1 victory sees Buckingham earn a place in the Investec Cup final for the first time in the club’s history, where they will face fellow Premier Division side Clifton on April 30 at Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre.

Head coach Zak Jones said: “As you can imagine it was a hugely satisfying weekend all around and we managed to achieve exactly what we set out to do.

“In league terms, we set out to try and give ourselves a chance of survival going into the final weekend and we have done that with a very hard fought win.

“I am really proud of the group as once again, they showed immense character, resilience and skill to come out with a narrow win.

“I was even more pleased that we were able to back Saturday’s performance up with a really strong performance on the Sunday. In the process we made a bit of history, which is always a nice bonus, by getting to the cup final for the very first time.

“In terms of the league, we are fully aware that will have to better Bowdon’s result in order to avoid automatic relegation.

“We have an extremely tough game away at East Grinstead who are chasing the final championship play-off berth and we are under no illusions as to how difficult a task we face.

“However, I am confident that we will approach Saturday in the same way we have done the last few weeks by embracing the challenge and giving it everything we have until the final whistle.”