Aldershot and Farnham head coach Ian Jennings hailed his team’s “outstanding” achievement as the Shots sealed a fourth-place finish in hockey’s South East Men’s Premier Division with a 5-1 win against Woking at Heath End on Saturday.
The battle for a top-four finish went down to the final week of the season, but a 2-2 draw at Woking last Thursday (March 30), coupled with Saturday’s win, was enough to finish fourth.
“As the season progressed it became clear you could split the league into three groups of four,” said Jennings.
“My aim was always to either finish top of the middle group or bottom of the top group, and to achieve the latter is quite frankly outstanding and we should be applauded for doing so.”
Despite being delighted with his team’s position in the table, Jennings felt there was room for improvement on Saturday’s performance.
“It was a slightly surreal game to be honest,” he said.
“We started with a couple of very quick goals, which gave us a nice platform to work from, but we were playing relatively poorly. Fatigue played its part with us playing our second game in 48 hours, but it was the carelessness we showed with the ball that was causing us so much unnecessary work.
“The second half was much better, as we started to play through our lines and we were creating many chances. Had we not started to play better I think it would have been much harder for us to push on when they got a goal back.”
Jennings is remaining coy when it comes to his aims for next season.
“Let’s just wait and see, as where we go from here is very dependent on the decisions the club makes, and the direction the club wants to go.”
A&F travelled to Woking on Thursday, March 30. Mistakes meant the game was end to end, but neither side could land a killer blow in the early exchanges.
Woking launched an aerial assault on the A&F backline, which struggled to deal with it, but goalkeeper Hamish Hall pulled off a number of saves to keep the home side out.
Jamie Weston gave A&F the lead when he dispatched a drag flick through the legs of the goalkeeper to convert a penalty corner. The only other major event of the half was a yellow card for Zac Chinn, which left A&F down to ten.
Woking couldn’t make the numerical advantage count. However, subsequent cards for Tom Herring and Jonny Groves left A&F down to nine players for a period, and Woking finally got on the board.
A hopeful ball crashed across the A&F D was misjudged by Kevin McCafferty, and the Woking forward finished into an empty net.
Shortly afterwards, Hall was judged to have brought down a Woking forward in a goalscoring position, resulting in a penalty stroke which was converted to give Woking a 2-1 lead.
The Cards had woken A&F up and they came out fighting once they were back to 11. The pressure mounted and Woking were struggling to keep A&F at bay. The pressure paid off when Weston converted his second penalty corner of the day, putting a drag flick high into the goal to equalise.
Despite losing Connor Wilkinson to A&F’s fourth card – and Weston to a hand injury – the game ended 2-2.
Less than 48 hours later the two teams met again at Heath End. A&F started brightly in the second game as they caught Woking napping.
Jake Combes initiated A&F’s high press and picked the pocket of the opposing centre-back and went through on goal. Combes calmly picked out strike partner Groves, who rolled the ball into an open goal to give A&F the lead. Not long afterwards, Scott Perry scored a drag flick from a penalty corner following good build-up through the midfield.
Woking received the first card of the game, but A&F didn’t capitalise on the numerical advantage and the score remained 2-0 at half-time.
The visitors pulled a goal back in the second half, making a penalty corner count when a drag flick was put out of Hall’s reach.
A&F reaped the rewards of their hard work in the final 15 minutes. The home side’s superior fitness levels were showing, and even when A&F lost Perry to the sin bin they were the stronger side.
Groves picked the ball up inside the D and rounded the goalkeeper, only to have his goalbound effort illegally stopped by a Woking body. Perry converted the penalty stroke to restore the two-goal lead. Stu Morhall was then rewarded for his tenacity as he showed good composure to lift the ball home following a goalmouth scramble to make it 4-1.
The scoring was rounded off late on by Chinn, who got a touch on Herring’s penalty corner slap to make it 5-1.