Chichester are safe!
The hockey heroes from Kingsham secured another season in the National League set-up when they won their second relegation play-off convincingly.
The 7-3 win at Kingsham over Bromley and Beckenham followed a 4-1 win at Wakefield in the first play-off and sparked joyous scenes as players, coaches and fans celebrated a great escape that had looked unlikely with a couple of games to go in the regular league season.
Bromley and Beckenham knew a win at Chichester would set them up nicely to beat Wakefield at home the following week and secure their place in the National League for another year.
With a packed touchline full of home and travelling supporters the game started at a fast pace, with both sides demonstrating they had come to play good attacking hockey.
B&B controlled the ball well and proved threatening on the counter-attack but it wasn’t long before Chichester demonstrated their quality with composure and possession in the opponents’ D - leading to Ollie Baxter opening up the scoring seven minutes into the match.
Bromley responded shortly after with a clinical short corner levelling the scoreline.
Chichester regained the lead when Luke Emmett found Ben Palmer in space and Palmer was able to drive at goal and flick the ball past the goalkeeper, taking Chichester into half-time with a 2-1 lead.
The second half started with both teams controlling the ball well.
Chichester began to seize the initiative and scored the next three goals courtesy of some clinical fast-paced hockey allowing Baxter, Jack Lerwill and Martin Gough chances that were expertly finished, the latter a well-taken penalty stroke.
With ten minutes left, B&B hadn’t given up and were starting to play their best hockey. They were able to bring the scoreline back to 5-2, but Chichester extended their lead with another open-play goal from Palmer.
Another good short-corner from Bromley took the game to 6-3 with two minutes left, and Gough was able to end the game on a high note for the home team after expertly converting a second penalty stroke – making the final scoreline 7-3 to Chichester.
Bromley and Wakefield are both relegated but with the class and quality of their hockey it is hard to see them staying in their leagues below for long.
As for Chichester, the noise of celebration from the players and supporters on the final whistle could surely be heard from the other side of the city.
Against all odds this small club had retained their National League status.
A team who were bottom of the league at the start of the year managed to fight their way past the league’s best teams to give themselves a chance in the relegation play-offs and had now managed to pull off what seemed an impossible feat and have survived.
Chichester captain Kieran Henn said: “The support we have had throughout this season has been overwhelming. Even on long away trips we sometimes outnumbered the home supporters. I can’t thank those people enough.
“You can see how much this means to the players as well and how hard they have fought for this – everyone is exhausted.
“We had given ourselves a big challenge, but all credit to the players, they never gave up, kept fighting and believing and gave everything they had when the club needed them most.
“I’m proud to be a part of this club and look forward to playing with a great team of old and new friends for another season as a National League club.”
Chichester have one more game left before they can relax properly, and it’s a big one.
For the first time in the club’s history the men’s first XI have made it through to the final of the HA Cup, which is effectively the FA Cup for hockey teams.
The same men that have just avoided relegation will face the star-studded premier league outfit Beeston at the Olympic Park on May 1.
If you want to go along and support your local club as they give it their best shot at making history, tickets are available to buy online at http://englandhockey.seetickets.com/event/investec-women-s-men-s-ko-finals-weekend/lee-valley-hockey-and-tennis-centre/970437
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