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Southern Gauteng and Northerns Blues are 2016 champions
- Updated: May 2, 2016
Southern Gauteng claimed the Greenfields senior interprovincial nationals men’s title in the most emphatic manner with a ruthlessly efficient 5-1 victory over the SA Under-21s in the final at the Randburg Hockey Stadium at the weekend.
The greater experience of the Southern Gauteng team was shown by their tremendous composure in defence, the SA U21s certainly threatening more than the scoreline would suggest. Up front, the home team were clinical, with Stuart Spooner and Julian Hykes taking full advantage of what were no more than half-chances for their goals.
Both teams took a while to settle down in a nervy first quarter, that finished goalless, with just one short-corner to Southern Gauteng.
Spooner opened the scoring in the 21st minute with an impressive reverse-sticks shot from an angle, but there is such talent in this SA U21 side that it was not much of a surprise when they equalised moments later, the hard-working Matthew de Sousa setting up a short-corner and then managing to get the ball past the daunting frame of national goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse with a clever deflection.
But Southern Gauteng were extremely dangerous on the break and less than a minute had passed when they were back in front, Clinton Panther rounding the defence and flipping the ball back for Brad Venter to pop it into goal.
When Hykes was gifted the ball at the top of the SA U21 circle by a foolish mistake but blasted his shot over the goal, it went down as a potentially crucial moment as Southern Gauteng went into halftime 2-1 up.
But the mark of a champion team has often been described as the ability to lift their performance by a notch under pressure and Southern Gauteng did just that as they came out for the third quarter and blew the SA U21s away with three goals.
A strong run by Brandon Panther set up a short-corner, from which Gareth Heyns gave a perfect example of a drag-flick into the top right of the net.
Southern Gauteng then gave a masterclass in exerting pressure as they squeezed the SA U21s into the left corner, eventually forcing the defence to gift possession away. Clinton Panther pounced, found Hykes, who crossed for Brynn Cleak to slot the fourth goal.
A pinpoint, perfectly-struck reverse-sticks shot by Hykes in the 42nd minute brought the fifth and final goal.
Southern Gauteng, patient and composed, structurally aware and able to read the game so well, were the worthiest of champions.
In the main picture, Clinton Panther (front) sets off on another scything run for Southern Gauteng as he gets past Nduduza Lembethe of SA U21s in the men’s final. Photo: Reg Caldecott
Meanwhile the women’s final, saw Northerns Blues laying claim to the women’s A-section title For the second time in three years after surviving a tense shootout against Southern Gauteng.
After the game ended locked at 1-1 at the end of regulation time the sides immediately had to pick their best five options for the shootout with neither side able to capitalise in the situation which forced the shootout into sudden death.
Southerns would have first go in the sudden death shootout and when Lisa Deetlefs slapped her effort straight at Mmatshepo Modipane it fell to Celia Evans to take it home for Northerns.
Evans promptly rounded Southerns shot-stopper Sanani Mangisa and slotted home to hand Northerns victory in the derby between the two Gauteng sides.
It was appropriate that Evans would have the final say given that she played a major role in the final, not only proving instrumental in setting up a number of attacking opportunities but also providing vital cover on defence.
Southerns had, however, come out the stronger of the two sides and managed to take the lead in the 11th minute as Shelley Russell fed the ball to Catherine McNulty in the middle of the D and a good finish under pressure made it 1-0.
But Northerns weren’t going to sit back and let Southerns make the play and had it not been for a last-gasp clearance by Ashleigh-Jean Datnow, who cleared off the line after Jessica Dollar slipped her defender, the scores would have been level sooner.
Dollar would again play a vital part in setting up a clear opportunity for Northerns as she found Jubb in the circle and a short-corner followed.
The set-up suggested that Jubb would have the shot but instead Northerns opted for the slip and the ball found Evans and she unleashed a powerful shot to level the scores in the 33rd minute.
That was how it stayed until the final hooter which meant an immediate shootout. Southerns at one stage held the advantage but Toni Marks and Taryn Mallett both missed their opportunities while Chanelle van Zyl converted the final attempt to force sudden death.
In the picture, Shelley Russell of Southern Gauteng (left) and Kelly Kaulback of Northerns in action in the final. Picture: Reg Caldecott