St Andrews 6-6 Abertay (St Andrews win 5-3 on penalties)

 

Photo: Axel Wallin

Ben Jamieson’s spectacular double hat trick ensured victory for St Andrews Men’s Hockey 1st team in a thrilling BUCS Scottish Conference Cup final against Abertay’s first team. Although the team from Dundee was brimming with pace, agility and all round talent, the Saints produced some stunning hockey to force victory in a penalty shoot-out.

However, this did not look like being the case during the early exchanges. A cagey first 10 minutes was dominated by strong tackling and few shots, with Saints captain Paul Ireland proving particularly disruptive in midfield. On ten minutes the first of many penalty corners was awarded to Abertay and, although the initial shot was saved, the rebound was bundled in.

This was unfair reward for what had been a battling Saints’ display and as the game started to open up, they fell further behind to a deflected shot which squirmed in at the post. They struck back swiftly as the inspirational Rory Hayward first won and then fired in the penalty corner for Jamieson to slot past the Abertay goal-keeper.

The rest of the half passed in a blur, with end to end passing and mazy running the hallmark of both teams. If Abertay had a slight edge in attack (smaller and swifter) then St Andrews players were great granite obstacles in defence, marshalled superbly by James Miles. Although they ended the half 2-1 down, St Andrews were by no means out of the game and clearly believed they could still win.

What followed was a truly extraordinary passage of play which thrilled the watching crowds and set hearts racing across both pitch and sidelines. Two penalty corners in swift succession to Abertay, the second following a green card for Miles, were thrashed in and the Saints looked like the proverbial dodo.

They managed to hit back immediately following the fourth Abertay goal, again through Jamieson, but ten minutes later conceded again to go 5-2 down. In a match that had already seen its fair share of goals, with legs that were tiring and against a home team vociferously roared on by a badly out of tune Abertay ‘Barmy Army’, Saints heads started to droop and tempers started to fray.

Jamieson, ably supported by the ever-busy Pete Stebbing, had other ideas. Within a minute, he had pulled the Saints a goal back to secure his hat trick, boosting his weary team-mates. The Saints began to crank up the pressure, mounting attack after attack on a suddenly back-peddling Abertay defence.

On 60 minutes the inexhaustible Hayward intercepted a loose Abertay pass, the ball made its way to Jamieson and slammed it into the top corner past the helpless goalkeeper. Moments later, things went from worrying to seriously panicky for Abertay as they lost a player to a yellow card for obstruction.

St Andrews players and supporters instantly scented blood and, urged on by claps and cheers from the sidelines, the men on the pitch pressed for an equaliser, maybe even a winner. The former came from a saved penalty corner which was prodded home by – who else – that man Jamieson again. Being level, having led for so long, seemed to sting Abertay into action and only consecutive goal-line blocks by Miles prevented the Dundee side from squeaking a late winner in normal time.

Moments into the first half of extra-time, Jamieson completed his double hat-trick and the Saints had one hand on the cup. However, Abertay were not going to go quietly into the good night and began assaulting the St Andrews line with ever increasing ferocity. Shots, penalty corners and a yellow card for Miles all rained upon the men in white but they stood firm.

At the centre of their stout defence was Charles Riley. The St Andrews goal-keeper was drafted in at the last minute despite a recently broken collar bone and put in a heroic performance, batting away shots with dismissive confidence and laying his body on the line time and time again. Repeated penalty corners were forced away, deflected behind and booted far up the field by the indefatigable Riley.

In amongst all of this defensive endeavour, Jamieson and Stebbing engineered a break up the field from which they should have scored, and put the game beyond doubt, but they dallied, and the attack was broken up. Agonisingly, with the last flick of the game, Abertay squeaked the ball into the St Andrews net at the near post, silencing the away support and sending the Barmy Army into raptures of joy.

The celebrations of the Abertay players foreshadowed their eventual downfall. They yelped and jumped as if they had won the cup already. The St Andrews players, on the other hand, simply straightened their shoulders, gritted their teeth and shook the tension out of their bodies. After an hour and a half of chasing the game, at last it came down to this-certainty and equality. They had fought back from 5-2 down. They could win a simple penalty shoot-out.

And win they did. Jamieson (of course) slotted in the first penalty, followed by Stebbing and Luke Mitchinson. They were matched shot for shot by their Abertay counterparts. Parity remained. The tension grew. Breathlessly, the crowd watched Gregor Schueler walk up to the spot, pause, and then flash the ball into the net. There was a bark of celebration from the St Andrews fans, and then the long walk for Abertay’s fourth penalty taker, Saints’ ex-coach Ross Glashan. He stepped up to the mark, shot, watched in horror as Riley palmed away the ball.

All the pressure was now on the St Andrews captain, Ireland, taking on the responsibility for putting the game to bed for the last time. Miss, and Abertay would have a lifeline. Score, and the celebrations could begin. He made no mistake, coolly flicking the ball into the net.

The Saints fans jumped the barriers, the Saints players rushed to embrace their skipper, and Saints hands were finally able to grasp the cup. Victory, after the most thrilling of games, was theirs.

Club President James Rivers, who watched the game, commented: “This is an absolutely outstanding win for the University 1st XI, and just reward for a fantastic season. The team today showed why they are performing so strongly in the National and BUCS leagues. They are a fantastic credit to the sport at our university and thoroughly deserve the Cup”.

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