Hilton College entered their match against Clifton College as clear favourites as they hosted the boys from Durban on a crisp but clear winters day. An inspired 1st half of hockey from the visitors was just enough to beat a 2nd half revival from the hosts, 4-3.
The match started with Hilton playing their customary brand of attacking hockey whilst employing an aggressive man to man in defence.
Clifton absorbed all the early pressure and were the first team to score. A Hilton turnover led to a breakout and a speculative cross was met by Justin Wood to score a deflected goal in the 6 minute. 1-0, and a dream start to Clifton.
In the 9th minute things got even better, another breakout from Clifton, and a brilliant timed deflected pass from Matt Strauss found Spencer Klue open in the D, who calmly slid the ball past the Hilton keeper, John Turner, to make the score 2-0.
The visitors weren’t done, either. Hilton were guilty of leaving far to much space in the midfield, space which the Clifton links and forwards ruthlessly exploited. A surging counter attack had Clifton again bearing down on the Hilton goal and some slick movement between Lotter and Stauss found Luke Wilson open to neatly tuck the ball in the goal. 3-0 in the 13th minute.
That ended a whirlwind chukka with many in the stands scarcely believing what they had just witnessed but all very aware that there was still 45 minutes of hockey ahead.
The 2nd chukka had more of a settled pattern of play as the midfield battle intensified between Cameron Pearce and Branson Bertasso, as each took opportunities to try and impose their will on the game. Pearce was his usual self as it sometimes took multiple defenders to halt his forward progress.
Hilton continued pressing up the field in man to man coverage leaving space for Bertasso, Munford and Strauss to work as they ran onto passes from the back.
Cliftons 4th goal in the 23rd minute came after a Hilton green card and a change in defensive formation. With a man down there was just a little more space for Jonathan Munro to smash a ball at goal from the top of the D. Through the crowd of bodies and hockey sticks the ball somehow found the end of Daryl Lotters stick who deflected the ball past Turner. 4-0 to the visitors it couldn’t get any better, could it?
In the 25th minute it almost was. Clifton had a great opportunity to make it 5 in the half, and surely seal the game in 2 chukkas, as a strong Munford breakout opened up space for Lotter. Turner did a great job of closing down the angle for Lotter whose push shot rolled agonisingly past the left upright.
The question was with time running down could Clifton keep a clean sheet or could Hilton, at least, get 1 goal back before the half? With time running down a lively run by Hiltons, Stephan Liebenberg, caused panic in the Clifton defence.
In the scramble Clifton were penalised for deliberately pushing the ball over the back line. PC to Hilton with 20 seconds remaining in the half. Pearce who had already had one of his efforts saved made no mistake this time as he beat keeper, Rajcoomar, to his left ending the 1st half 4-1 to the visitors.
After the game Keegan Pearce, coach of the Clifton College 1st side, had this to say regarding the opening half.
‘I think that what we were very good at was playing on the counter. They committed to many numbers at times, just because its their attacking style, and we just set up some great combination passes and got behind their lines which ultimately led to us scoring 4 goals in 25 minutes which was brilliant.’
Brilliant indeed and with only 30 minutes to play Hilton College Coach, Devon Van der Merwe, needed to make some adjustments.
The 2nd half a decidedly different feel to it as Hilton committed more numbers into the midfield and crammed the passing lanes. Keegan breaks it down for us.
’From an out letting perspective, they pushed extra numbers on the overload and we struggled to adapt.’
At times Clifton were guilty of just trying to be to clever with the ball when the the more prudent option would be to get the ball out of the red zone by any means necessary.
Hilton were camped in the Clifton third and in the 34th minute a strike from Liebenberg was well saved by Rajcoomar. Suubi Mugerwa-Sekawabe started putting his mark on the game as he directed the Hilton attack down the left and right channels as sprayed passes to eager runners.
Clifton defended valiantly as they threw themselves across the astro keeping the skilful Hilton players at bay. In the 42nd minute it seemed that the dam wall may be showing a few cracks. A racking slap stick pass from Sekwawabe earned Hilton a PC.
Up stepped that man Pearce whose drag flick exploded the back of the Clifton net making it a brace for the burly midfielder. 4-2 is how the chukka ended, but Hilton were quite clearly in the drivers seat at this stage.
With the the start of the 4th chukka Hilton ,again, increased the pressure by man marking the Clifton players. With the Clifton midfield and strikers seeming to tire a little there just didn’t seem to be the same kind of space for the backs and midfielders to operate in.
In the 49th minute came another Hilton PC with Pearce once again taking the flick forcing a great save from Rajcoomar. It was all Hilton as the probed and prodded trying to get to the by line. In the 53rd minute Rajcoomar was again the Clifton saviour as the keeper first saved a shot from Pearce and the follow up from Liebenberg.
The pressure on the Clifton goal seemed relentless, but just it looked like they would break the Clifton boys would rally and clear the danger.
Clifton escaped up field and in the 55th minute and earned a precious PC of their own. Munford, showing great strength on the ball, was dragged to the ground buy a Hilton defender far outside the D. The PC didn’t yield any fruits but it had moved play into the Hilton defensive third.
A Strauss reverse stick strike beat Turner to the left to make it 5-2 to the visitors? No, the umpire blew his whistle for an third party obstruction on Clifton. That certainly would have sealed it, but on we played as the time continued ticking down.
Back came Hilton as they searched desperately for their third goal and in the 59th minute Leibenberg guided a bullet cross into the back of the net making the score 4-3. With a minute to go the tension was palpable as the Clifton boys tried to hold onto the ball. Mercifully time ran out with the Clifton in control and, more importantly, holding a 4-3 advantage over the top ranked school in the country.
Keegan had this to say,
‘in the last chukka they went 10 v 10 against us which made it very hard for us to get connections which is what we thrived on in the 1st half. They were great interceptors and won some proper balls so it was tough for us to get forward.’
When asked about the season as a whole and his teams performance on Saturday.
‘I think our biggest problem is that we have so many junior boys, so we have only 3 matrics, so its very hard to find consistency as boys have up and down games as teenagers do… I think we have gotten better and better which is to be expected if the boys put in the hard work.
I just think today we just capitalised and scored the goals where in the first five our six games we just didn’t score enough goals. If you not going to score goals you not going to win matches.’
Thank you Keegan for your time and what a great way for Clifton to end their 2019 season with a win over Hilton College away from home. Next up for Hilton is a trip to frenemies, Michaelhouse.
Hilton College 3(1)
Goals: Cameron Pearce x 2, Stephan Liebenberg
Clifton College 4(4)
Goals: Spencer Klue, Luke Wilson, Justin Wood, Daryl Lotter