Winchester's stuttering finish to the first half of the South Hockey League Premier Division 2 season continued with a 2-2 draw against second-to-bottom Ashford at Kings’.
Twice ahead, Winchester’s inability to capitalise on a concerted period of second half pressure cost them dear as they succumbed to a late sucker punch, writes John Player.
Results elsewhere, however, mean that, when the season resumes on January 14, third placed Winchester still have the future in their own hands as leaders Tulse Hill only managed a 1-1 draw at fourth placed West Hampstead.
But the difficulty that Winchester previously had in despatching bottom place Staines and now the Ashford draw shows that the games against the other top teams are only part of the story to come when play resumes next month.
An even start against Ashford swung Winchester's way in the tenth minute when Kent Langridge swept home from a left slip at a penalty corner.
Winchester had a slim majority of play through much of the remainder of the half with Rob Moore and Ben Hibberd both going close, but their passing lacked the precision that their league position reflected and too often they lost the ball and the initiative in needless situations.
Playing mainly on the break, Ashford hit back at the back end of the half from a penalty corner from former Barford Tiger, Shujah ur Rehman, whose drag-flick flew high into the net.
Shujah ur Rehman has hit the 50-goal mark twice in recent seasons and has already notched 17 this term.
The visitors were also fastest out of the traps after the break and goalkeeper Caelan Dillon made a great diving penalty corner save to deny Ashford after they had broken away rapidly from a penalty corner the other end.
However, apart from one moment where Winchester were fortunate to clear their lines after a panicked defensive episode, and another where they relied on a Kevin Boniface surgically accurate tackle to deny a clear opportunity, all the pressure now came from the home team.
After Will Phillips had hit the post at a penalty corner, Winchester finally broke through when Adam Tollefsen intercepted a poor clearance and fed Boniface in an unusually advanced position on the edge of the Winchester "D".
His pass into the danger area was sufficient to cause mayhem and Hibberd reacted instantly as the ball flew past him and deflected it over the keeper to take deserved lead.
In the next few minutes, Peter Symonds’ student Isaac Hocking sent a shot just past the far post and Ryan Croxon, the Ashford ‘keeper, made a fantastic double saves from Rob Moore and Harry Talks to keep the game alive.
Winchester were still throwing men forward looking for the killer punch, but they received the sucker punch instead as a rare Ashford attack resulted in penalty corner which after a series of deflections found its way past the prone Dillon with ace predator Shujah ur Rehman again the scorer.
Former Portsmouth Grammar School student Jadon Buckeridge was among the scorers as Oxford University blasted Lewes 7-1.
Welcome to Vimps at the Hockey
Powered by Cricket-Hockey.com, the hockey equipment specialists in Downton, Salisbury