We arrived in Lytham to find that the school was right on the beach front. The novelty of being by the seaside soon wore off, however, once the girls realised how low the temperatures were and that the shore breeze did not assist during the warm-up nor the game!
We had never played AKS before so had little knowledge of their form. From speaking to colleagues, we expected them to be strong; their team included a number of club players, including several girls involved in the England Hockey Pathway.
Our girls started strong and had an early break away in attack, which helped them to settle. AKS has a strong centre mid-field, and we had altered our formation in preparation for this. For the first 20 minutes, it was end-to-end hockey – both sides had chances and were awarded short corners.
From the research we had done prior to the game, we were aware that AKS has a player who is able to drag-flick during a short corner. We altered our defence strategy for short corners in anticipation of this and had discussed the defence of a drag-flick in training. In the first short corner awarded to AKS they went for the straight strike; it was saved by Ella Niblett (GK). For their second short corner, AKS prepared for a drag flick. Again Ella deflected the goal with her stick.
The defence for Shrewsbury was outstanding. Led by vice-captain Jetty Russell, it consisted of Katie Oswald, Lizzie Ware and Adelaide Sillar, who had been moved to right-half from mid-field for this match.
In the 25th minute AKS scored, but Shrewsbury did not let this deter them. The girls knew from previous games that they were capable of coming back. After being 2-0 down to Christ College a few weeks ago, they had pulled back to equalise.
At half-time (35 minutes) the score was 1-0 to AKS. Shrewsbury were single-minded in their approach to the second half; they knew they were capable of winning this game and needed to continue to battle.
Shrewsbury came out strong in the second half, and for around ten minutes the girls had the majority of possession and numerous chances at goal. The 1st XI have always been strong in their counter-attacking and stepping to the ball. We had a number of 1 v 1 with their goal keeper; all credit to the AKS defence who made it very difficult for our attack.
At 15 minutes into the second half, our captain Emma Graham led by example and scored. It was an outstanding goal, injected into the D by Amelie Davies while Emma had positioned herself right in front of the GK. Fantastic hockey!
AKS upped the pressure – and they had a number of supporters who created a great atmosphere. Even some of our subs channelled the Shrewsbury spirit and started chanting ‘Salop’. (Clearly they have been taking tips from the 1st XI footballers.) Shrewsbury continued to battle, with Georgie Nicholas, Phoebe Wasdell and Kitty Taylor showing true grit, not being pushed off the ball and fighting through the AKS defence.
With two minutes to go, AKS scored, a deflection off our defence. Frustratingly, they then scored again with about 30 seconds to go; all credit to the AKS attack for some outstanding hockey.
The final score was 3-1 to AKS, but with Shrewsbury having played some of their best hockey of the season. Their work rate and determination were terrific.
Well done to this talented group of girls. My heart rate is only just returning to normal! To quote one of the opposition’s coaches, the girls were ‘epic’, and it was a joy to watch such a high standard of hockey from both teams.
We have invited AKS for a block fixture next year, and hopefully this will become a fantastic annual game in the future. Many thanks to AKS for their hospitality and a outstanding game.
Player of the Match was Ella Niblett, who arguably had the game of her season.
The squad were:
Emma Graham (Captain)
Jetty Russell (Vice-Captain)