Cup disappointment for relegated South Antrim

Action from the match between South Antrim and Belfast Harlequins US1116-421PM Pic by Paul Murphy
Action from the match between South Antrim and Belfast Harlequins US1116-421PM Pic by Paul Murphy

Having been disappointingly relegated in their first season from the premier league, South viewed the Anderson Cup as an opportunity to end the season on somewhat of a high.

Belfast Harlequins, who have made the IHL playoffs, stood in wait for the Lisburn outfit. Interestingly, it was a 3-2 defeat at home to Harlequins three weeks ago which confirmed South’s relegation.

The match started out as a rather cagey affair with both sides offering little in the way of clear opportunities.

A half of hockey largely played between the two 25 yard lines in conditions which ironically echoed South’s turbulent season; hail, snow, sleet amongst a splattering of breakthrough sunshine.

Despite a splendid performance in the first half from Ward Phillips, whose trickery constantly posed a threat to the visitors, Adam Glass had South’s only real chance of the half.

His effort, however, was comfortably saved by Ian Kelly in the Harlequins goal. As a unit, South were - rather uncharacteristically - resolute during the opening 35 minutes, denying the visitors any clear sightings of goal.

An often overused cliché, ‘a game of too halves’ couldn’t have been more apt for this encounter. Within minutes of the restart, South took the lead.

A nice exchange down the right hand side involving Mark Gray and Adam Glass ultimately led to Nathan Gamble bundling the ball home from a yard out.

Harlequins, however, are in the IHL playoffs for a reason and did not lie down for long. Luke McClelland got the visitors level via a well taken drag flick before he edged Harlequins in front from another short a minute later.

And within seconds of the restart, it was 3-1. South, looking to get back on level terms immediately, were caught on the break after turning over the ball cheaply and Harlequins took advantage.

South eventually settled themselves and began to knock the ball about with fervour. Young James Brown, who has been a bright spark in a rather disappointing season, came close with a drag flick and also had a reverse stick opportunity fly narrowly wide of the left post.

Adam Glass did reduce the deficit with 15 minutes to go. Receiving the ball on the 25 yard line, Glass pirouetted past two Harlequins defenders before rifling a reverse into the bottom right corner.

As South continued to press for an equaliser the game became more frenetic. Adam Marshall, who has excelled well above his years this season, was sin binned for a lunging tackle just outside the 25.

Whilst down to ten men, Harlequins increased their advantage. To their credit, the hosts weren’t done yet. As they continued to press, more and more mistakes were being forced from the Harlequins back line.

South won a short corner seven minutes from time which was initially well saved by Kelly before South skipper, Lee Marshall, slotted in the rebound.

It was too little, too late for the hosts, however, who simply ran out of time despite a valiant effort in the dying stages leaving the score 4-3 to Quins.

All in all, a disappointing season for this youthful South side but one which the group can reflect on, learn from and hopefully use to motivate themselves in their attempt to bounce straight back up next season.