REDDITCH gave their promotion hopes a huge boost by inflicting a first league defeat of the season on West Midlands Division One leaders Market Drayton.
The Shropshire side arrived at Bromsgrove Road on the back of a thumping 16-0 win over basement boys Leek 3rds and the Kingfishers were well aware of their goalscoring prowess.
However, the hosts produced an inspired display to cement second place with a 3-0 win and close to within three points of the table-toppers heading into the Christmas break.
Early exchanges were evenly matched but Redditch broke the deadlock when Chris Thomas got on the end of an Andy Billingham penalty corner strike to deflect the ball home for his third goal of the season.
Redditch shocked their opponents as they doubled their lead before half-time when Jacob Beard received the ball at the top of the D from the midfield before using superb skill to turn and beat two players before firing a reverse stick shot into the bottom corner for his tenth goal of the campaign.
At half-time coach Wayne Beard encouraged more of the same and the team duly delivered as forward Dan Waite stretched the opposition defence by making runs into the corners.
Dan Jakeman, Harry Williams and Mike Slater worked hard in the centre of midfield and Harry Saunders and Eugene Read defended well and offered an outlet as wing backs, moving the ball forward into the attacking corners fluidly.
Billingham was voted man of the match for the third week in succession as he and skipper Adrian Young worked hard to keep the Market Drayton centre forwards clear of keeper Joe Cardy’s goal.
It was some fine individual skill which got Redditch their third goal as Pete Dawson drove into the D and fired home to make it 3-0.
THINGS did not go so well for the Kingfishers on Sunday when they were edged out 4-3 by league rivals Ludlow in the England Hockey Tier 3 Championships – a national competition which sees the final held at Lee Valley in London in May.
This was Redditch’s first game in the competition for more than ten years and they were playing in round two after receiving a bye in the first round.
The sides were always likely to be evenly matched as they are level on points in second and third places in the league and Redditch took the opportunity to hand first team debuts to youngsters James Browning and Jack Gwyer.
Redditch had to absorb the majority of the early pressure as Ludlow looked threatening from the first whistle but it was the Kingfishers who broke the deadlock with a pacy counter-attack involving Harry Williams whose shot was eventually deflected into the net by a Ludlow defender.
However, the hosts came back fighting and deservedly moved into a 3-1 lead before the visitors reduced their arrears heading into half-time when Harry Saunders showed great skill and composure to attack the Ludlow baseline and dink a cheeky lob over the goalkeeper.
The ball fell just short of the goal-line but, despite the Ludlow defenders’ best efforts to clear the ball, it was tapped home from close range by Gwyer.
The second half did not bring much of an improvement in performance as Redditch again struggled to clear their lines and put the Ludlow defence under any pressure.
In fact, in a very rare occurrence, Redditch failed to win a single penalty corner. Ludlow, however, continued to apply pressure and the Kingfishers were only kept in contention by some superb saves from man of the match goalkeeper Cardy before Ludlow were rewarded with another goal to make it 4-2.
It was only through another counter-attack that Redditch managed to give themselves a glimmer of hope as Jakeman broke through from midfield to score and reduce the deficit to 4-3 but it was too little too late as Ludlow held on to go through to the next round.
Captain Young reflected on his side’s efforts in the first half of the campaign, saying: “It’s been a challenging first half but I’m really pleased with how the team have applied themselves at training and in games to put us in the position we are in.
“Our coach Wayne Beard has worked hard to keep us focused on some key principles and some of the youngsters who have come into the team are building in confidence which is great to see.
“Our aim for the season is to achieve promotion and I am hopeful that, if we show the same discipline and determination we have shown in the last couple of victories over Bromsgrove and Market Drayton, we can make that aim a reality.”