These two tough northern teams are currently battling it out at the top of the Northern 1A division with only a very slim goal difference separating them. However, Wednesday saw the two battling for a different prize- the chance to make it through to the semi-finals of the much coveted league cup. Despite the freezing conditions a large crowd turned up to cheer on the home side and the importance of the game was palpable. Manchester captain Kieran Mulholland commented to The Mancunion prior to the game that the result would have massive implications not only for the cup but also in the title race. “Whoever wins will have impetus going into the crunch match later on in the season between us two, which could potentially seal the fate of the division title.”
The game started very tentatively from both sides, with much of the ball being passed between the defenders as the attackers from both sides had difficulty stringing phases of play together. Mulholland for Manchester tried to inject some pace into the game and his weaving run from the half-way into Newcastle’s D brought about the first penalty corner of the game. What followed was an excellent routine set piece, but sadly the finish was swept just wide of the right post. Manchester gained confidence from this though and began to pressurize the Newcastle players on the ball, especially in the mid-field area.
Newcastle seemed to wake up after the first ten minutes responding to Manchester’s pressure and began making progress in their opponents’ half. After several wayward hits into the Manchester’s D a penalty corner was finally awarded, however a powerful Newcastle shot was blocked and dealt with well by keeper Peter Sidwell. Manchester however were unable to properly clear their defensive lines and after what resembled something akin to pin-ball wizard inside the penalty area the ball was slotted home from very close range by Newcastle’s number 10 Hall. The goal came almost as a surprise for Hall whose joyous celebrations were met with a shocked silence from Manchester supporters.
More and more people began turning up to cheer Manchester on. Heads were bowed however from the players after the shock goal. While the home side were keeping much of the possession, legs appeared heavy and very little movement was exhibited. Newcastle took advantage of this and carved out several chances in front of goal but none could be capitalized on. Manchester players became frustrated and none more so than number 6 Andrew Rusbridge who performed a type of rugby, wrestling infused tackle on his opponent. The umpire didn’t take to kindly to the challenge and produced a green card from his pocket.
Manchester players managed to compose themselves and began linking passes together, with number 4 Mackichan and Captain Mulholland dominating in mid-field. Their pressure paid off as they were awarded with their second penalty corner of the game, however a moment of controversy followed as in some confusion the referee awarded the ball be returned to Newcastle for no apparent reason.
Manchester soon won the ball back however and Mulholland smashed a shot that just whistled wide. Newcastle lead was hanging like a thread but they managed to relieve some pressure nearing half time with a long pass out from defense. Manchester were unable to defend their lines effectively and gave away two penalty corners in succession. Keeper Sidwell however was more than a match for them, pulling out two fantastic saves to keep them in the game. Manchester went into half time 1-0 down.
Manchester started the second half brightly and the half-time team talk had clearly geared them up as hard tackling was flying in. Mackichan showed excellent strength whilst on the ball and Newcastle players began to steer clear of him as the half progressed. Manchester built up momentum from defence to set up a brilliant chance in the Newcastle D however, this was then stopped by a stray foot. From the resulting penalty corner Mulholland crashed a shot into the bar, with cries of disappointment from the crowd who were willing it to be just an inch or so lower.
Newcastle breathed a sigh of relief and realized that they needed a goal to seal victory. Being the first game back after Christmas began to show on the Manchester players as Newcastle began to be first to every ball and tackle, making excellent runs and linking play. Both Clegg and Jabbal made goal-stopping tackles when Newcastle were in front of the net but there was nothing they could do when number 11 Kempe sent the ball rocketing into the net from the top off the D after some lovely wing play and cross in 55 minutes into the game.
Defeat now seemed inevitable for Manchester and Newcastle with the bit between the teeth charged forward in attack sending the right and left backs up the pitch. The attacking play paid off as five minutes later Kempe for the second time smashed the ball past a stranded Sidwell from a similar range. Newcastle captain John Colville couldn’t look more delighted when the final whistle rung out 10 minutes later.
A disappointing defeat for Manchester Men’s Hockey who had performed excellently this season in both league and cup. Hopefully this is just a blip in their fantastic form and they can pull it together in their next away league match against Liverpool John Moores.