Saturday 10th October, and the UEA men’s hockey first team took on Shefford & Sandy Hockey club. UEA were so far undefeated in over two years, and were planning on continuing this streak in the regular league game. The heavy rain that preceded the match throughout the morning had left the AstroTurf waterlogged. With UEA starting the game with the first pass back, the men’s first team quickly drove into the Shefford defence. Getting some shots off early, UEA showed off their clear advantage in speed and passing accuracy.
Shefford showed an early frustration with some easy giveaways, and UEA continued to dominate possession. Five minutes in to the first half, Shefford were given the first short corner of the game, but the pads of UEA goalie, Josh Thody, blocked their shot easily.
UEA were the first to score, with a high rebound from Shefford’s goaltender. Captain Joshua Class attempted to keep the team focussed, as Shefford responded quickly, almost equalising the score within three minutes, were it not for a kick save by goaltender Thody. UEA possession continued to dominate for much of the first half, and set up most of the scoring chances. Highlights included a series of fakes by number 51, David Gilbert, that broke through the entire Shefford defence and set up a scoring chance that unfortunately went wide. In response to this, Shefford rallied and were able to maintain pressure on UEA’s defence, decreasing their turnovers, and picking up the pace. During a Shefford attack on the UEA goal number 69, Christopher Whiting, took a hit to the shins. As a result, UEA were awarded a free hit, which gave them the opportunity to take the pressure out of their own end. UEA’s second goal came midway through the first half, with a shot that sent the Shefford goalie sprawling in the wrong direction.
As the first half drew on, UEA began to lose control of possession, and Shefford’s scoring chances increased. Awarded a corner shot, Shefford set up an easy one-timer shot that was sent straight into the bottom corner, setting the score at two-one. Despite this potential comeback Shefford were still clearly frustrated at their inability to convert on their many scoring chances. Frustrations went higher still for both teams when UEA forward Benn Mann took a serious hit to the neck from a high stick, which forced him to be substituted off. These tensions were not helped by a heavy bout of rain that made pitch conditions even worse as the first half drew to a close.
As the whistle blew for the end of the first half, it looked like this game would end as with another of UEA’s wins. Right from the whistle heralding the second half, however, this quickly changed.
With UEA leading two-one coming into the second half, the team appeared recharged. Benn Mann also returned to the pitch, his injury apparently shaken off. Shefford too seemed revitalised, and with their new found energy managed to snap a quick shot early in the second half to bring the game back to two all. UEA seemed unable to respond to this, and were unable to set up a scoring chance, despite the high pressure they were putting on the opposition. Shefford’s frustrations returned to the fore when their forward was given a yellow card for aggression. Nonetheless their mood was soon revived by a battle in front of the net that gave them a three-two lead.
This marked a clear turning point in the game. Shortly afterwards, Shefford were awarded a short corner, and with another well-placed one timer were able to increase their lead to four-two. From this Shefford seemed content to relieve their pressure on UEA, and possession shifted up and down the pitch with chances for either side. UEA were awarded their first short corner of the second half mid-way through the period, but were unable to get a shot off. Such stymied chances set the precedent for the rest of UEA’s half. Despite frequent sets up, UEA were unable to convert. One instance led the Shefford goalie to run out of his zone to steal the ball from UEA forward Ben Mann, leading to an errant shot sent wide in the scramble. As the half entered its final ten minutes, UEA started to apply intense pressure to the Shefford defence. UEA’s passes became quicker, and their shots harder. This applied pressure came back to haunt them though, as a hard shot from one of UEA’s own connected with their captain Glass’ foot, sending him to the ground in pain. Glass returned to his feet, but was noticeably impaired for the remainder of the game.
UEA kept up the offence for the remainder of the game, but were unable to make anything of their chances. The final whistle blew for a four-two victory for Shefford. With that, UEA’s record was shattered, and a frustrated team were left to warm down as Shefford celebrated. Although this was not a catasrophic defeat, the manner in which UEA lost is cause for concern. As the team move into a BUCS competition in the coming weeks they must now face the challenge knowing that they are no longer the untouchables of the Hockey world.