M1 3 - Upminster 2
Stevenage’s start to this season has been disappointing to say the least with five defeats to their name, so the visit of league leaders Upminster on Saturday was not one that Jon Oliver’s men would savour.
The way the home side set up for the game was more attacking than in previous weeks with Oliver welcoming back brother Ben to the forward line in the hope of reigniting the season. From the start as expected Upminster, who were undefeated, pressurised the Stevenage back line and tried to force them in to making errors. The defence who had been leaking goals in recent weeks resisted well and calmly played themselves out of danger on several occasions. Paul Graves and Chris Strickland marshalled the back with the help of James Hamilton and Matt Oliver and if it hadn’t been for their early discipline, the home side may well have been behind. As Upminster were creating their chances the Stevenage side also created their own and should have maybe taken the lead when Matt Oliver fired a ball across too early for Bailey Dingley and Scott Davis to convert.
After quite an even first quarter Upminster then broke at pace and after a good reaction save from keeper Tim Dingley an unmarked forward fired home to give the league leaders the advantage. At 1-0 there was always the danger Stevenage would fall apart like in previous weeks, however Jon Oliver got the troops moving and through his inspiration and control in midfield started to create a few opportunities, with impressive through balls and passing to the likes of Gary Brown and Graham Swinyard. On one occasion he set off Ben Oliver who looked to be rekindling his partnership of years gone by with Danny Blackburn again as they combined to force the away keeper in to a great save.
After both sides had tested the respective keepers Upminster stunned Stevenage with a second goal which seemed harsh on the home side. The half was coming to a close when Bailey Dingley and Dan Farnan won a free hit after a good move was illegally stopped. From the resulting hit in Blackburn won a scrappy ball in the area and crossed for Ben Delaune to fire home and give Stevenage a lifeline.
The second half started in a fiery environment with challenges flying in and exchanges becoming heated. Upminster saw a player sin-binned before Stevenage lost Ben Oliver and Gary Brown also to yellow cards, Blackburn with a trademark challenge was also cautioned amongst others from both sides.
When the game started to settle Upminster almost went 3-1 up but a great save from Dingley and then a goal line clearance from Graves kept them at bay. When the sides were back to eleven each the game opened up and chances were falling to both sides again, Ben Oliver put Blackburn through but his effort was saved before Jon Oliver’s effort hit the post and Swinyard was just unable to deflect the rebound home!
Stevenage were equal to Upminster and were playing their best hockey of the season and sensing a possible equaliser. Short corners were being won and on two occasions Graves and Brown had come close to drawing the sides level. On 60 minutes Dan Farnan won a short corner, from the resulting hit out Gary Brown slipped the ball to Danny Blackburn who drag flicked the ball in to the roof of the net to equalise to his delight and that of Oliver’s army! Stevenage had the upper hand as Upminster looked stunned, Scott Davis , Graham Swinyard , De Laune and Oliver started to boss the midfield with the back up of Strickland and Hamilton playing as wing backs to support and over lap. Chances were falling to Stevenage who desperately needed that first win and their confidence was growing. They almost got a goal when Ben Oliver flicked just wide after a good ball from brother Matt. Then it was Upminster’s turn as they pushed for the winner they felt they deserved and forced Dingley in to some fine stops and anything he didn’t get to was securely dealt with by Paul Graves and the help of James Hamilton and Chris Strickland.
The game was heading for a draw which Stevenage would have taken at the start of play – when Jon Oliver won a short corner after combining well with the youngsters Farnan and Dingley. From the corner with the last hit of the game Gary Brown fired home a thunderbolt which gave the away keeper no chance and Stevenage their first points of the season against the league leaders.
L2 6 – Vauxhall Chiltern 1s 0
Fresh from their first league victory the previous week, Stevenage were determined to maintain momentum and didn’t disappoint the home crowd, giving Vauxhall Chiltern 1s six of the best.
Whilst the first goal was a traditional forward line routine – Debbi Church collected a lovely feed from Riana Smit, dummied left past a sliding keeper and a quick reverse slip to a predatory Alfie Gunther, Chiltern were completely unsettled for the rest of the match as it seemed any red outfield player was capable of scoring.
Not to be outdone by the forwards, defender Julie Rhodes stepped forward for a penalty flick awarded after some overly exuberant short corner breaking by the visitors. Cool as a cucumber, Player of the Match Rhodes popped a nonchalant ball to the right of the stretching keeper to put the reds two ahead at half time.
Chiltern attempted a fight back in the second half, holding Stevenage in their own half and applying some pressure with a succession of short corners. Whilst the red defence had no problem keeping the ball out of the net they were struggling to clear it out. After ten minutes however, Stevenage tired of teasing their opponents and went back on the offensive, third goal honours coming from a short corner rebound popped over a prone keeper by mid fielder Riana Smit. Goal number four came courtesy of this season’s new rule that a ball no longer needs to be touched by an attacker in the D to count as a goal. Defender Karen Kotze thundered the ball into the circle which ping ponged into the back board off a defender’s stick.
The visitors were visibly wilting as Stevenage piled on the pressure, Jo Thorpe putting in a stonking cross from the left for Captain Bec McGrellis to send home and with 2 minutes left on the clock there was time for one more – Debbi Church felt like a kid in a sweetshop as she ran the ball into the D to find her captain providing an option on the left and Gemma Penny to the right. Church chose left, the keeper froze and McGrellis took the tally to six.
After back to back home games, the reds are off to Tring next Saturday hoping the travel angels are on their side.
M5 0 - Royston 4s 7
Another tricky fixture for the troubled Stevenage side. A very well organised Royston scored within the first minute of play, followed by a further four goals before half-time. After some structural changes during the break, the visiting side looked more dangerous, only conceding a further two goals, and taking a more attacking shape, albeit with little finishing success. Out-classed by Royston's organisational skills, Stevenage will need to shape up and regain their ball-skills if looking for their first win of the season. Hats off to stand-in keeper Martyn Binge, who made some impressive saves despite no training as a keeper whatsoever...
M2 1 - Royston 2s 3 (Ollie Holt)
M3 2 - Potters Bar 2s 5 ( Roger Barlow 2)
M4 1 - Blueharts 5s 2 (Dan Davies)
M6 0 - Letchworth 6s 2
L1 2 - Potters Bar 4 ( Nat Davis 2 )
L3 1 - Vauxhall 2s 1 ( Holly O’Connor)
L4 0 - Saffron Walden 7
L5 2 - Hertford 4s 1 ( Helena Page 2 )