Buckingham LHC suffered heartbreak at the weekend when their relegation from the Investec Premier Division was confirmed despite claiming a gutsy and hard-fought 2-1 victory away at promotion-chasing East Grinstead.
Buckingham knew that victory was a must if they were to have any chance of staying up but after a superb performance and result, they learned of their fate when news filtered through of Bowdon Hightown’s 5-3 win at Reading, thus sealing Buckingham’s relegation from the top flight.
Head coach Zak Jones commented afterwards: “Saturday was a real rollercoaster of emotions and an especially cruel way to be relegated.
“The girls produced an immense performance to come away with the win and give ourselves the best possible chance of survival.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, as Bowdon, to their credit, pulled off the result they needed, meaning there was nothing more we could have done.
“I could not have been more proud of the performance and the character, resilience, spirit and skill the girls showed to produce that performance under that sort of pressure.
“Our form in the second half of the season has been fantastic. Winning three and drawing one of our seven matches is the sort of form that would have had us comfortably mid-table had we produced that consistency in the first half of the season.
“Unfortunately, fate conspired against us with serious long-term injuries prior to Christmas when 11 of the 18 games were played.”
Buckingham started well on Saturday, passing the ball accurately and playing with real fluency in attack, whilst defending with good organisation and intensity.
The visitors spurned a fine early chance but their excellent start yielded an opening goal when some good interplay and a fine pass into the D from Amie Hone won a penalty corner, from which the inspirational Kitty Higgins produced a fine finish.
East Grinstead also needed victory for their own play-off ambitions and that made for an open game with plenty of chances at both end.
Great Britain star Sophie Bray caused problems for the Buckingham defence and a period of Grinstead pressure culminated in the equaliser through a penalty corner on the stroke of half-time.
The hosts continued to apply pressure in the second half but Buckingham defended as if their lives depended on it and came through the third quarter of the match unsatched.
Having battled through that period, Buckingham came out of the other side firing.
They created a good chance through Abbie Brant on 50 minutes that was well saved, but just two minutes later, a fine finish on the turn from Phoebe Richards restored Buckingham’s slender advantage.
With East Grinstead desperate for a win, the hosts threw everything at Buckingham in the last ten minutes but the girls stood firm and secured a highly impressive away win.
As the final whistle sounded, news was coming through that nearest rivals Bowdon were losing 3-2 at Reading. Some confusion followed as to whether that game had been completed or not and there was a period where Buckingham thought that had done enough to avoid automatic relegation.
However, gradually news filtered through that somehow, despite all the final games supposedly starting at 2pm, there were still 12 minutes to play and Buckingham endured the agony of waiting for the other result and unfortunately, Bowdon scored three late goals to seal Buckingham’s fate.
“We are all hugely disappointed but I am also very proud of how well we competed and how close all the games have been,” added Jones.
“The season is not quite over. We have a cup final to look forward to at the end of April, so we will take a couple of weeks off to recover and regroup.
“Then we will get back in training to give ourselves the best chance of finishing the season on a high.”