Havant clinched England Hockey’s Western Conference title with a 3-1 win over near neighbours Chichester – a derby which attracted a sun kissed crowd in excess of over 250 to the College touchlines.
It sets Havant up for a tilt at next month’s play-offs for 2019/20 Premier Division status, see separate article.
First half goals by teenager Ethan Hoddle and Pakistan international Atiq Ashad gave Havant a 2-0 interval lad, which Chichester’s Alex Messenger trimmed before Chris Smith settled it with a third in the closing stages.
It didn’t help Chichester’s cause that talented teen Alex Pendle was sidelined with a painful gluteal muscle injury. Instead of causing Havant problems with his tricky stick-work, the exciting England U18 prospect spent the 70 minutes operating a roof-top video camera.
It was clear from the first whistle that Havant were very nervous and within 30 seconds Chichester won their first penalty corner. The ball was not stopped at the top of the circle, but Chichester did enough to feed the ball back into win a retake. The second attempt produced a shot wide of the goal.
In the fourth minute Chichester missed an almost open goal, the shot going the wrong side of the post when it looked easier to score. Soon afterwards a slick move between Matt Cox and Mike Deller-Merricks presented Cox with a return pass in front of goal but his diving deflection went wide.
Havant slowly started to get a foot hold in the game and began to test the Chichester defence. Atiq Arshad, who had jetted in from Pakistan barely 24 hours earlier, showed early signs of brilliance and worked well with Charlie Stubbings, who was buzzing everywhere. Charlie created several opportunities driving into the circle, but there were no Havant forwards who could convert the chances.
Havant did, however, did take a slightly fortuitous lead in the 18th minute after another Charlie Stubbings cross was saved by former hosts keeper Chris Bristow, but the rebound ricochet to Ethan Hoddle and then off a defender’s stick into the visitors goal. 1-0 Havant.
But Havant’s opener was completely over shadowed two minutes before half-time when Atiq Arshad picked up a lose ball and drove into the Chichester circle.
As Chris Bristow came out to challenge, and fell to the ground, Atiq lifted the ball into the roof off the net with a clever reverse shot to give Havant a 2-0 half time lead.
Arshad has played over 30 times for Pakistan and was rated as ‘one of the players to watch’ in last year’s Hockey World Cup.
After the re-start Havant won their first penalty corner in the 37th minute, which Bristow kept out with a double save. The goalkeeper was in action two minutes later after Hoddle and Stubbings worked well together with only Bristow to beat, but he again rose to the challenge.
The next goal was always going to be important and it fell to Chichester.
A free hit out of defence was turned over in midfield and Chichester attacked into the right of the circle where Alex Messenger fired the ball past the un-sighted Tim Hoare, who had replaced Polish international Maciej Pacanowski in the Havant goal.
Despite this setback Havant picked up the pace and continued to probe the Chichester defence with a high number of circle entries.
It was clear that Chichester tried to snuff out Matt Cox’s distribution from centre half, but Havant rotated players through midfield producing a number of options to attack.
Chichester counter attacked at every opportunity and won a penalty corner in the 53rd minute, which they switched to no effect, but won a retake.
From this re-take Tim Hoare (who deputised brilliantly for Pacanowski) pulled off a great safe wide to his right.
From this corner Havant created a quick break and won their second penalty corner of the game after Mike Deller-Merricks had found a Chichester foot in the circle. Once again Havant were thwarted with a double Bristow save.
Havant continued to look dangerous and were rewarded in the 66th minute from a third penalty corner.
Once again Bristow saved the first flick, but it ballooned up into the air where Chris Smith volleyed the ball into the netting to tie up a 3-1 victory – and the Western Conference title !
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