Southern Gauteng put themselves firmly in the favourites’ seat as they continued their victorious run through the Greenfields Senior Interprovincial Nationals with a 3-1 win over KZN Raiders in their men’s A Section semi-final at Randburg Hockey Stadium on Friday.
After a goalless first half, Southern Gauteng broke the deadlock through a Brandon Panther field goal and they then scored twice in five minutes in the final quarter to break KZN hearts.
The result means Southern Gauteng will take on the SA U21s, who earned themselves a place in the final by beating Northerns in a shootout, in Saturday’s showpiece match.
Even though the first half-hour ended goalless, it was a top-class battle of wits between two sides who put a premium on patiently maintaining possession and using the full width of the field, with a strong defensive showing by KZN forcing Southern Gauteng to use a lot of long-ball.
Raiders had the better of the half with a couple of short-corner chances, as Daniel Sibbald and Jarryd Jones put in several penetrative runs. Unfortunately Sibbald suffered a knee injury when he collided with the goalpost and was unable to take the field again, depriving the KZN attack of a crucial weapon down the left.
Southern Gauteng returned from the halftime break with a steely focus and a clear resolve that they needed to up their game and they produced a compelling second half of precision hockey.
They won a trio of short-corners with Julian Hykes, Clinton and Brandon Panther consistently troubling the KZN defence with their sharp attacking skills.
The Panther brothers have been holding court throughout this tournament and they combined beautifully in the 40th minute for a field goal by Brandon, rounding the defence and then shooting home from an acute angle, to end the stalemate.
Jones struck back four minutes later though for Raiders with a superb individual goal, running to the baseline, drawing national goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse, who made a half-stop, before the KwaZulu-Natalian regained control of the ball, ducked inside towards the penalty spot and flicked it under Pieterse for a brilliant equaliser.
But it was a case of the calm before the storm as Southern Gauteng lifted their game another notch and killed the contest with further goals in the 47th and 52nd minutes.
Hykes went on a scything run and passed to Brandon Panther and, with the KZN defence desperately trying to closer him down, he was able to flip the ball back to the penalty spot, where Brynn Cleak was able to slot the ball into the net.
Five minutes later, the hosts won a short corner and, after goalkeeper Gowan Jones saved the initial drag-flick, Brad Venter, the pusher, was on hand to stick home the rebound, taking Southern Gauteng to a 3-1 lead.
They will advance to the final with their confidence at a high and the SA U21s are going to have to find a way to disrupt a team that believes in their structures, has immense composure, plenty of experience and no shortage of skill to get them through any trying times.
-5Lisa Hawker of Southern Gauteng (left) and Kara-Lee Stella of KZN Raiders in semi-final action on Friday. Picture: Reg Caldecott
In the women’s competition there was almost a case of deja vu for the Southern Gauteng women’s side but a goal nine minute from time earned them a berth against Northern Blues in the final of the Greenfields Senior Interprovincial Nationals.
The hosts were forced into a shootout in their quarterfinal earlier in the week and it looked as if their last four match-up against KZN Raiders was heading the same way before a goal, eight minutes from time, by Taryn Mallett handed them a 1-0 win.
But it should have been more, especially when you take into account just how much of the possession Southerns held and the number of short corner opportunities they were able to create as a result.
In the 52 minutes leading up to the game’s solitary goal, Southern Gauteng were able to make a number of circle entries and have shots on goal with Toni Marks in particular proving a handful to the Raiders defence.
But as good as Marks was at getting herself into space and firing shots at goal so to was Raiders shot-stopper Cherie Greyvenstein at deflecting danger away and her efforts.
Penalty corners third and fifth minute of the game didn’t go to plan and by the time Southerns earned their eighth shortie of the contest you felt that if they weren’t going to get that one right then they never would.
But a well-worked variation saw the ball set up nicely for Mallett and she struck home the advantage and Southerns ran down the clock to book their final berth.
Most of the game was spent inside the Raiders half and the Kwa-Zulu Natal outfit only managed to create two clear cut opportunities, once from a short corner, and the other in open play.
It seemed as if they’d hammered home the advantage in the third quarter, scoring from a penalty corner, but umpire Michelle Joubert ruled that there was obstructive running and Southerns were off the hook.
The only other Raiders chance came at the end of the third chukka as Kylie Oosthuizen got on the end of a brilliant feed into the circle by captain Kara-Lee Stella but her deflected effort sailed over the crossbar.
While the Southerns defence was miserly in providing the opposition with opportunities to break into their territory it was the reverse at the other end with the home side making a number of runs into the circle.
There was, however, a period where both sides were guilty of giving away possession too easily which detracted somewhat from the spectacle involving two of the best women’s sides in the tournament.
– See more at: http://www.sascoc.co.za/2016/04/30/southern-gauteng-men-and-women-book-final-spots/#sthash.8PvBH76h.dpuf