WITH the weather showing little sign of easing up after two previous weekends of high winds and driving rain, both Penarth Hockey Club sides had to battle more than the opposition, but a trio of hat-tricks ensured they emerged with vital points towards their respective Davis Wood Hockey League campaigns.
PENARTH HC A 6-2 Neath A
Despite playing at a lower level, the 2nd XI stole the spotlight by producing an exhibition of attacking hockey only previously seen in short bursts this season.
Determined to put daylight between themselves and their pursuers in the De Cymru 2 standings, the Vale side faced an unpredictable Neath side that they had only beaten 2-1 despite playing some nice hockey in the corresponding fixture back in October.
Although the conditions suggested that flowing game should be impossible, the home side set about the opposition from the opening whistle, putting together a string of slick passing moves that kept the pressure on the Neath end. This eventually led to the visitors conceding a penalty corner and, although the initial strike was blocked by the Neath keeper, Dave Kidby was on hand to coolly pick his spot and fire an unstoppable shot past the massed defenders.
Buoyed by the early goal, Penarth maintained the upper hand, and the passing game was quickly rewarded with a second goal, this time converted by veteran centre forward Dave Watkins.
Keen not to fall too far behind, Neath changed their tactics, throwing extra men forward in order not only to chase goals of their own but to disrupt the Penarth defence and stem the build-up of further attacks. Despite being gifted a couple of penalty corners, the visitors were repelled until midway through the half, when a cross from the right was converted to make it 2-1, but Penarth countered the minor setback with two more goals before the interval, with Kidby and Watkins again sharing the spoils.
Turning around 4-1 to the good was not only unfamiliar territory for the home side, but could have led to a degree of complacency setting in after the break. However, with stand-in captain Rob Harrison calling for concentration, Penarth came out determined to add to their advantage.
Although ensuring that their substitutes remained involved in the game led to a defensive reshuffle that allowed Neath to pull a goal back early in the second half, Penarth remained in control, with Richard Bromily and Ian Smith again strong in defence and Tom Davies providing an extra attacking thrust from midfield.
With some total hockey keeping the majority of the pressure in the Neath half, Kidby and Watkins both picked up another goal apiece to complete their respective hat-tricks and give Penarth their highest tally of the season, beating the five they put past Swansea and moving their goal difference into the black for the first time since opening weekend.
Hereford 3-3 PENARTH HC
After a good victory against Cleevillians the previous weekend, Penarth travelled to a very wet, very cold and very windy Hereford hoping to extend their winning start to 2014.
Skipper Mark Thomas welcomed back veteran Phil Lane and youngster Gareth Herman after both missed the Cleevillians match, but the weather conditions meant that Hereford Racecourse was never going to be the location for a high standard of hockey.
Both teams tried as hard as they could to get the game going, but things did not start well for Penarth as they struggled to get to grips with the pitch and the conditions, and it was only the sharpness of Mark Harris in the visitors goal that ensured the match remained scoreless.
As the game wore on, Penarth started to move the ball well through the midfield quartet of Herman, Thomas and brothers Richard and Chris Baker, eventually gaining a penalty corner, which Baker Jr converted with a drag flick through the Hereford keepers legs.
The goal provided the boost Penarth needed and, as the half continued, they pushed on, looking to double their lead as the front line of Lane, Matt Birch, Sam Wooding and Arthur Jones worked in rotation to find space at the top of the pitch. However, with no further goals coming for the Bears, it was Hereford who took advantage, finding the net before half time after some sloppy defensive play by the visitors.
Penarth struggled to get back into the game after the interval, and were further hampered by an inability to keep eleven men on the field. Twice reduced to nine men, the Vale side could not keep pace with their hosts, and Hereford again made the most of the situation by extending their lead to 3-1.
With most things seemingly going against Penarth, the defence of Dave Stevens, Tom Haran, James Davies and Sam Docherty stood firm, and gradually gave the team the foundation on which to mount a comeback.
After some excellent passing, Penarth eventually gained another penalty corner, which Baker again despatched with a drag flick, this time in the top corner, and the goal provided much needed momentum for the visitors, who pushed on into the closing minutes. With Baker's excellent stick skills proving too much for the home defence, the reward was a penalty stroke, which Baker duly slotted past the keeper to bring the sides level and complete his hat-trick.
The point was enough to confirm Penarth's fourth position in the De Cymru & The Marches division ahead of Saturday's home game with fifth-placed Cardiff & Met C. The 2nd XI, meanwhile, start a run of three games against the teams immediately above them with a trip to Cwmbran to take on a Gwent side that claimed a hard-fought victory the last time they met.
Penarth Hockey Club always welcomes new, old and returning players, umpires, supporters, friends and helpers regardless of age and ability. Training takes place on the artificial turf at Barry Sport Centre every Wednesday, with the Juniors in action between 6-7pm and Senior between 7-8pm.
Further information can be obtained from: club secretary Dave Stevens (firstname.lastname@example.org)