Champions ! Winchester’s title winners.
Standing (from left): Rob Moore, Craig Simms, Adam Tollefsen, Will Phillips, Rob Goodchild, Ben Hibberd, Mark Maunsell. Front: Kevin Boniface, Caelen Dillon, Kent Langridge, Chris Jackson, Martin Harris, Isaac Hocking, Andy Thomas. Photo Jon Player.
Winchester are South Hockey League Premier League Division 2 champions.
Buoyed by two first half goals in quick succession, they clinched top spot with a 3-0 win at Ashford to regain their top flight South status after a 17-year absence.
There have been many dark days for the city club since April 2000 including spells towards the bottom of Hants/Surrey Regional Division 2.
But a steady climb back has seen them celebrate a third promotion in six seasons.
Oxford University go up with Winchester after finishing runners-up – level on 46 points with West Hampstead, but with a superior goal difference of one !
Winchester were still uncertain of promotion – let alone the title - when they arrived at Ashford.
With the lower teams in SP2 frequently springing surprise results in recent weeks, Ashford – sweating on possible relegation - had the capability of spoiling Winchester's progression.
With both sides intent on attack, a free-flowing game ensued with Mark Maunsell going close in the opening moments and Ashford firing wide a few moments later.
But two rapid fire goals got the Winchester promotion band wagon rolling.
Rob Moore opened the scoring with a thunderous reverse hit strike – a lead which Peter Symonds College student Isaac Hocking doubled in the 16th minute after Kent Langridge threaded the ball through to him.
Ashford refused to lie down and threatened through a well-worked penalty corner routine which Will Phillips snuffed out with a fine saving block.
Craig Simms and Kevin Boniface too had to be at their best to deny any serious home threats, but Winchester goalkeeper Caelen Dillon remained largely a first half spectator.
Two-down Ashford pushed forward after the break, but Winchester were unable to exploit the gaps they left at the back and so wrap up the points.
Winchester then became nervy, perhaps generated by their inability to convert so many chances, and errors crept in across every part of the field.
Not helped by playing a period of the game with nine men – two Winchester players found themselves sin-binned - it was all hands to the pump defensively, Dillon winning his spurs, making a great double save, putting the second strike over the bar with a stick deflection.
Winchester found their feet again and the previously rampant Ashford attacks subsided.
With about ten minutes remaining, promotion architect Ben Hibberd delivered the title settling third goal, a well executed penalty corner which the superb Ashford keeper parried but was unable to prevent Winchester’s player/coach roofing the rebound.
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