Super Saints shine

ST Albans travelled down the M3 to Flemming Park, Eastleigh, at the weekend for the remaining four matches of the EHL Division One Indoor Hockey League. The weather may have been dreadful and wet but for the indoor version of the game this was of little

ST Albans travelled down the M3 to Flemming Park, Eastleigh, at the weekend for the remaining four matches of the EHL Division One Indoor Hockey League.

The weather may have been dreadful and wet but for the indoor version of the game this was of little consequence. Spirits were far from dampened following three wins and a loss in the opening round of fixtures which meant Saints were second in Division One, only two points adrift of the leaders Havant.

On the opening weekend Saints had lost by a narrow margin to Doncaster. Saints led throughout the game and gained a two goal cushion through David Nicklin and a Glenn Webster hat trick but, with only seconds remaining, Doncaster struck a lethal blow. Two quick goals were conceded from set pieces outside the D as frailties in an otherwise seamless defence were exploited, leaving the Saints heartbroken at 4-5.

Saints had only hours to wait as the punishing schedule fitted four games into a weekend. Wins over Sheffield Bankers 9-3, Harleston Magpies 6-4 and Surbiton 7-5 followed, leaving the Saints with a nine-point haul from the first round of matches.

A rivalry outdoors has emerged between Saints and Magpies as each vie for the top spot in the East Premier outdoor hockey league. Magpies had the upper hand outdoors but Saints produced an assertive victory indoors, Paul Cooper, Dixon, Nicklin and Matt Cocks all netting, whilst Webster bagged two goals in the 6-4 win.

The victory over Sheffield Bankers was a game to remember for the Dixon family. Brothers Adam and Andy appeared in the squad together for the first time. Adam plays for the Men's Seconds and Andy is currently studying at Sheffield University, having played with the Saints last year. The game marked a first National League appearance from 17-year-old Adam in goal and, not to be outdone, Andy scored a hat trick in the 9-3 victory.

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The Surbiton game had it all - goal-line saves, slick interplay, fine goalkeeping and a brace of goals from captain Paul Cooper and vice Captain Glenn Webster. In fact, it proved an eventful tournament for Andy as he was injured during the game against Surbiton, receiving a nasty gash to the face. Players from both sides were glad to see him return the following weekend all stitched up and ready to play.

So with nine points in the bag and the leaders Havant still to play, Saints knew they were in with a real chance of promotion.

A tricky prospect awaited on the second Saturday morning as Saints took on an unpredictable Barford Tigers side. The game was tense, with the Saints struggling to find the form of the opening weekend. Yull had been resolute against early pressure in goal, making a string of fine blocks, ably assisted by Cocks and Dixon. This allowed the team to push on and a 2-0 half-time deficit was soon reversed with a blitz of goals from first Webster and two from an in-form Dixon in quick succession. Newcomer Barry Murphy netted the winner in some style to make it 4-3.

Havant proved too strong for St Albans, running out 7-4 winners, but the result may have been different had they not lost Glenn Webster with a head injury when leading 2-0. The game was at a stalemate for long periods but two lapses lasting only a matter of seconds allowed Havant to get daylight and stretch away for the vital win. David Williams was the pick of the Saints forwards with two open-play goals from a tight angle.

Relegated Guildford were dispatched with aplomb 6-1, Barry Murphy rising to the challenge scoring three fine team-play goals for his hat trick. Webster scored another two to lead the top goalscorers race, Nicklin finishing the rout.

This left only Stourport to play and the prospect that a win would mean promotion. A typically dogged game ensued from two ambassadors of the indoor game. Webster scored the first and last goals to lead by example, Murphy and Nicklin scoring in between. Indoor games are won and lost by the narrowest of margins, so with the game tied at 4-4 and only seconds remaining, Yull was replaced in favour of an extra field player. A melee ensued around the umpires but perfectly legal substitutions and stoppages were being made. The gamble paid off as Saints forced a short corner with the time all but elapsed. However, a brave defender charged down the strike and the score remained 4-4.

Desperately unlucky, Saints now relied upon Havant beating Harleston Magpies in order for the Saints to progress. Fielding a weaker side and until then unbeaten, Havant made hard work of it and lost 4-2. This promoted Magpies into second place leaving the Saints in the worst position of all - third. Saints had beaten Magpies comfortably 6-4 earlier in the tournament, so to see them progress was a bitter disappointment.

After a recent slump in fortunes, St Albans now appear to have the ideal set up. Manager Graham Webster was keen to praise all his players. He said: "Malcolm Yull in goal and Glenn Webster's skills on the pitch were key to our team play and both have European experience. Barry Murphy, who had never played indoors, was a revelation and just got better and better. Defenders Matt Cocks and Andy Dixon were an outstanding rearguard with Andy Dixon getting deserved pitch time in goal, whilst forwards, David Nicklin and David Williams grabbed their share of goals, as did captain Paul Cooper."

Ultimately, Saints came within one victory of regaining their place among the indoor hockey elite of the Premiership. Manager Webster added: "Coach Dick Ashby with input from Stephane Port did a great job. The whole thing was very professional and disciplined. The players responded brilliantly. I don't really want to pick out individuals but Andy Dixon was outstanding. We now look forward to working for promotion outdoors.