Henley end season with draw
In Indian Gymkhana and Fareham we trust
The stalwart Henley supporter is used to this scenario: the last game of the season and once again success / failure in the league riding on the result of this one last match. It has been thus in each of the last 6 seasons and it makes for an entertaining, if a little unnecessarily tension filled culmination to the annual campaigns and brought the crowds out in their 10s to witness the event. This time round 3 points would have guaranteed a 10th placed finish and a reliance on the outcome of the National League relegation play-offs to secure a place in the South Prem 1 for another season. A draw or loss left the door open for the auld enemy Banbury to go above Henley and send the Amber and Blues down.
The season had proven to be hugely frustrating. The squad had been strengthened by the arrival of Harding and Land from Marlow at the start of the season, leading to a strong pre-season and much optimism for a successful year, but injury and availability issues early in the campaign meant that Henley were unable to build on their positive start. The departure of talisman Ross Hibberd at Christmas, along with keeper Henry Emmett, who had replaced the retired Roy Cox, meant a reshuffle in the new year. Cox returned and with Land and Harding fully fit and Danny Newcombe joining from Milton Keynes, there was a new feel to the squad post-Christmas.
Wins over Guildford and Banbury, and a fabulous comeback point against then leaders Bromley and Beckenham seemed to have taken Henley to a position of safety. However a string of losses, despite some excellent displays, notably against Milton Keynes, London Wayfarers and Old Cranleighans, combined with points being gained by fellow relegation candidates, left Henley 3rd bottom and desperate for a win from the final game.
Horsham had secured their safety the previous week and clearly came to the game with a sense of freedom in their play. The opening exchanges saw the home side play with great intensity and they dominated early possession and field position. Henley’s greatest ever player, Chris Green found space and time in the circle on a couple of occasions but failed to convert, and a number of short corner opportunities came and went. Horsham threatened rarely with the back 3 of Slay, Heaver and Walter martialling proceedings, ably assisted by Ed Hughes-Burne and Rob Rowe from the bench, but Horsham did boost a red hot drag flicker in Matt Hough, and he converted their first sort corner of the game on 18 minutes to give the away side a surprise lead.
Despite the setback, the home side continued to dominate possession. Rhys Joyce and Henley’s most valuable player of the season, Benji Hetherington, produced dominant displays in midfield and provided the platform for some lovely flowing attacks, whilst Alex Land was on sparkling form down the right flank. But despite several short corners and some excellent open play opportunities the Amber and Blues remained frustrated. Horsham had a couple of breaks in the final minutes of the half, with a rejuvenated Roy Cox producing a fabulous save late in the half to keep Henley in the game.
The second half produced a similar pattern. The home side forced turnover ball regularly, with the front five of Taylor, Gupta, Foster, Harding and Ralph putting the Horsham back 4 under constant pressure and dominated field position with the visitors increasingly reliant on breakaways. Henley’s star of the future having been recently selected for the England U16 team, Fred Newbold provided an excellent impact from the bench and forced a couple of great saves from the Horsham keeper early in the half, before the home side finally made the breakthrough.
The equalizer reflected all that is good about Henley’s style of hockey. The ball was played swiftly and incisively through midfield with skipper Ed Foster once again providing a key outlet as he linked with Hetherington who spread the ball wide right to Heaver, whose quick pass found Land high right. Land drove into the circle, found Harding on the flick spot, who’s precise slip pass then found Green alone at the far post for a crisp finish.
Despite a string of short corners and some more excellent open play opportunities late in the game, the home side failed to find the winner and the match ended all square. Fortunately news swiftly arrived that Banbury had lost their game, and so the disappointment in dropping points in the final game was short lived.
This was another dominant display that went ultimately unrewarded. There is excellent quality in this group and with youngsters like Fred Newbold making an impact at senior level, there is the much to look forward to next season regardless of the ultimate outcome of this season. Henley now rely on either Indian Gymkhana or Fareham finishing above Oxton in the 3-way relegation play-offs in the National League to secure their status in South Prem 1.
Team: R Cox, S Heaver, A Slay, R Rowe, E Hughes-Burne, T Walter, D Ralph, J Taylor, E Foster (Capt), S Harding, R Joyce, B Hetherington, C Green, L Gupta, A Land, F Newbold