Wapping Survive Blueharts Test to Edge Closer to League Title
Blueharts provide a sterner test than many in M2’s last home game of the campaign - Image Iain McCauslan
After securing guaranteed promotion with a duo of impressive performances in a double header weekend a week previously, the league title was on the line against Blueharts at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre.
Three points would leave the London club the champions-elect, with their goal difference nearly 20 superior to the second placed side, Bourne Deeping, going into the final Saturday of the season.
However, it was clear early on that this game would be no walk in the park, with Blueharts fighting their own battles at the other end of the table.
Wapping’s availability and injury list had left them with an unfamiliar defensive line, which showed when Blueharts were able to penetrate the ‘D’ more times in the first ten minutes then many sides have managed all season.
Fortunately for Wapping, they were able to relieve some of the pressure through a midfield including Adam Haines, James Fanger, Alain Traill and Kiwi Tatai Dewes.
These players and the fluid forward line ahead of them managed to create something out of nothing when they won a penalty corner.
Stop-gap right back and last week’s hat-trick hero Dom Oliver stepped up and cleverly converted the chance, using a defenders stick to deflect the off-target strike goalwards.
This was Oliver’s last meaningful contribution of the day and indeed the season, as minutes later he was left in a heap on the floor, clutching his hamstring with the signs suggesting a lengthy lay-off.
For Wapping this caused another re-shuffle of resources and further confusion in their defensive efforts. Soon this brought real trouble, leading to a penalty stroke being conceded by replacement left-back Alain Traill, which James Bowler couldn’t keep out.
At 1-1 all of the advances were being made by the visitors, who were putting in a display far removed from the 8-0 thrashing they received in the reverse of this fixture.
Half time came as a respite and a relief for the out of sorts Wapping side, who needed to be told firmly what was on the line by coach Steve Turner, who also made some tactical alterations to assist in breaking down the stubborn Blueharts defence.
Early in the second period it looked as though Wapping had listened, immediately winning a penalty corner. Aggravatingly for them, the routines were also not clicking.
When a rebound from a rare strike from captain Charley Wright from the top of the ‘D’ fell to Jason Black, his hand-eye coordination failed him, missing the ball with his stick and instead kicking the ball with only the ‘keeper to beat.
Soon after, it seemed that Wapping would regret squandering such an important chance.
Blueharts won a penalty corner at the opposite end, converting the opportunity after a goal mouth scramble to further test the hosts’ nerve, resolve and desire.
Staring down the barrel of a first home defeat since February 2015, Wapping needed to find another gear from somewhere, or someone.
Decisively, the home side had forward Bobby Watson in their arsenal, who chose this vital moment to show the exceptional skill and trickery that he has in his locker but hasn’t displayed enough of this season.
His first vital contribution came from the top of the ‘D’ at a penalty corner, the drag-flick strike finding the inside netting of the goal giving the visiting ‘keeper no chance and bringing Wapping level.
Almost immediately after the equaliser, Watson struck again with a superb piece of finishing worthy of winning any game.
The opportunity arose from a Blueharts attack. When the yellow-clad centre half played a reverse ball to Watson mistakenly, halfway into the Wapping half, the Wapping forward accelerated up the pitch, beating two players in the process, before showing the class and composure to ‘chip’ the ball over the on-rushing ‘keeper and into the back of the net.
This left Wapping with ten minutes to hold on to their slender 3-2 lead.
Uncharacteristically, they engineered a way to put themselves under a great deal more pressure when first Haines and then Fanger were shown yellow cards in quick succession, leaving the home side with nine men on the pitch.
With the numerical advantage, Blueharts piled on the pressure, with only two last ditch clearances from skipper Wright, one off the goal-line, stopping the visitors from equalising.
Bowler, in the Wapping goal, also played a major part in keeping the visitors’ score to two. In a tricky five minute spell he made three key saves to keep his side ahead.
Returning to their full complement of eleven men, Wapping were able to see out the final stages of the game by keeping the ball in a manner that eluded them for the prior 67 minutes.
When the final whistle blew, Wapping could celebrate their seventeenth win of the season and the points that all but guarantee them their second league title in three years.
A point next week will be enough for the lads in maroon, taking three would mean they would beat the record points tally of 55 that they set in the 2014-15 season.