Every once in a while there comes a day to reward all those who put in so much effort both on and off the pitch. Wednesday was such a day as the OCHC 1st XI dug deep to beat Old Georgians in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd at TD to secure a place in the quarter-finals of the EH Cup (click here for match photos).
On paper this looked likely to be a one-sided contest. Georgians’ expansion plans are well known and they arrived unbeaten in the National League, while we were still stinging from a defeat at Winchester on Saturday which had seen us lose top spot in South Premier 1. The opening exchanges did nothing to dispel the fears and within five minutes we were a goal down as Josh Doble clattered an attacker and Georgians slotted the resulting flick. The next half hour was dominated by Georgians but our defence held firm, aided by a misfiring OG’s short-corner routine and some excellent saves from Doble. Then shortly before the break, and out of nowhere, Jay Harman fired a rasping equaliser from the edge of the D, our first meaningful shot of the evening. The crowd went berserk and we went into the break level.
The second half, while still controlled by the visitors, was more even and we started to look threatening on the break as the OG’s understandable frustration grew. Again, they squandered several short-corner chances, but then, with ten minutes to go, Matthew Laidman fired home a cracking short-corner strike to give us the lead. Georgians threw everything at us in search of an equaliser, including taking off their keeper for the final four minutes, and that enabled us to counter attack with both sides missing chances. As the noise levels pitchside grew, they were suddenly silenced when, with a minute left, a rash tackle earned OGs their second flick which was duly despatched and the game finished 2-2. And so to a penalty-flick shootout.
Again, with a wealth of talent, OGs were expected to prevail but Man-of-the-Match Doble saved the first flick, and with everyone else (Laidman, Jack Smart, George Pettitt and Will Phillips) scoring it came down to Jay Harman to take the tenth a decisive flick … and he hit the post. Both sides scored their sixth attempts, and then OG Dan Fox, a GB and England international and a former Cranleigh teacher, struck the crossbar. It was all down to Smart who, unfased by the OG keeper’s delaying tactics, calmly slotted his flick to trigger jubilant celebrations on and off the pitch.
The stats would show OGs had the lion’s share of possession and shots, but it just wasn’t their night. Perhaps we wanted the game more. We chased down everything and never once did anyone’s head drop or did they stop giving their all. Nor did the crowd stop cheering.
“This was an incredibly resilient performance from the guys,” said director of hockey Pettitt. “It showed the tremendous development of the squad over the past three seasons and I could not be prouder of this group. We proved we can mix it with the best teams in the National League and plan to be amongst them next season. Tonight was a special occasion for the entire club and I want to thank the committee and the wider club for coming out to roar us to victory – you were the 12th man and carried us over the finish line.”
In 1998 we also reached the last eight of the EHA Cup, losing to then superclub Cannock at TD. That proved to be the zenith of a period of success which started with our return to TD in 1993. The intervening two decades have often been hard, largely because back then there was no building underneath the 1st XI. There will be no similar mistakes this time. The club has depth in both men’s and ladies’ sections and a vibrant colts section, as evidenced by the number of youngsters in the crowd. It also has financial stability, a fantastic venue with a superb new pitch, and a dedicated and hard-working group of people working tirelessly to keep us on the right path. Wednesday night was as much about them as the stars on the pitch.