Cracker of a match goes down to the wire

2014-09-11 00:00

IT couldn’t have been any closer when Howton Hockey Club shaded a combative Country Districts II by a 3-3 (5-4) scoreline after a sudden-death penalty shootout to win the final of the KZN Inland Challenge at Greenfields Turf on Sunday.

Craig Mullon nailed the winning penalty shootout strike while Howton team-mate and goalkeeper Joel Barron made the title-clinching save as the match went down to the wire after the initial rounds of regulation time plus the shootout had ended all-square.

The 70 minutes of match play was full of goalmouth action as play swung from end to end in the unsettling heat. There were plenty of flowing attacking moves — the ball passing through as many as six sticks on occasion — but goalkeepers Juan Pretorius (CD) and Barron were up to the mark.

The match exploded in the 23rd minute when outstanding Howton striker Matthew Wills got just reward for his tireless endeavour, a penalty corner drag-flick that glanced in off the hapless keeper’s glove (1-0).

To rub salt into it, Wills struck again in the 24th when he was perfectly placed at the far post for a classic Aussie goal, his looping deflection the result of a pinpoint Michael Craig pass from the right that split the defence (2-0).

CD came back with a vengeance. KZN Inland and Dolphins all-rounder Kyle Nipper surged forward from deep defence up the left channel in the 26th minute as he flipped the ball along before caning a reverse-stick rocket to Stu Woodroffe, who deflected with nonchalant ease high into the net (2-1).

The on-fire Howton sharpshooter Wills was again on the button in the 31st with a PC drag-flick that Howton team-mate Luke Barnard was on hand to reverse-stick into the net from the rebound off the unlucky Barron. The 3-1 scoreline to Howton had seen a four-goal mayhem inside nine minutes.

But CD were not done yet. The country lads pulled one back 23 minutes after the changeover (58th) when a Nipper PC drag-flick ballooned the back of the net. With 12 minutes left it was 3-2 and game on.

It was with an agonising 12 seconds remaining that Nipper stepped up once again to beat the first-wave defender at a PC before picking his spot for the 3-3 equaliser at full-time.

Then the shootout — the all-important showdown of the season to be decided as much by luck as skill — and it was the influential Craig Mullon and hugely talented shot-stopper Joel Barron who had the final say for the champions, Howton Hockey Club.

One had to spare a thought for the brave CD lads, particularly SA Country Districts defender Keith Stainbank, who made several crucial tackles to keep his ­local side in the game, as well as Nipper and company who had given their all in the cause.

Next season offers the chance for the tables to be turned.

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