Exeter men’s hockey 2nds suffered cup heartbreak on Wednesday, as they were beaten 2-1 in extra time of their quarter-final clash with rivals Loughborough in the BUCS Trophy. In what was a tense game, Exeter will undoubtedly feel a little disappointed with what was an uncharacteristically timid performance from a side that had not lost since November prior to the start of the game.
With the start of proceedings delayed due to the women’s tie against Nottingham (also on the Water Astro) going to a penalty shootout, both teams were raring to go as Loughborough pushed back to begin the match. It was the visiting side who started the match the stronger of the two teams, with some excellent swift passing, and a relaxed, confident approach. They were rewarded for this early pressure with a short corner, which resulted in a penalty flick being awarded for an illegal block on the goal line. The flick was confidently dispatched and Exeter found themselves behind.
Far from bouncing back after conceding, Exeter looked shaken, and almost conceded again when James Claughton was caught in possession, leaving Loughborough through on goal. Luckily for Claughton, the Loughborough player mis-controlled and the ball was hacked clear.
Exeter’s first major chance arrived around 15 minutes into the first half; Alfie Gilbert finding club captain Sam Plater just inside the D with a precise pass. Plater turned and struck a venomous strike goalwards, but was denied by the post. Loughborough were able to breathe oncemore. This marked the beginning of a good spell of pressure for the home side; Albert Thornton doing well to earn his side a short corner. Unfortunately the corner was hopelessly overplayed and came to nothing.
As halftime approached, frustrations were beginning to mount in the Exeter camp, much to the glee of the very vocal travelling fans. A late first half sin-bin for Loughborough raised Exeter’s hopes, but it had little impact upon the play, and when the halftime whistle blew, Loughborough’s lead remained intact.
Unfortunately for Exeter, things didn’t get much better after the break. Loughborugh started the second half in a similar fashion to the first, forcing two excellent saves from goalkeeper Todd Dudley in the early stages. However, they were once again reduced to 10 men after Plater was sent through on goal, only to be hacked down cynically by a Loughborough defender. The resulting short corner, however, was again squandered as Exeter overcomplicated their routine and lost possession.
Just as things were starting to look desperate for the home team, a jinxing run by Jamie Sones yielded another short corner. The routine once again was sloppy, but the ball fell kindly for George Creed, who made no mistake and smashed the ball past the Loughborough keeper to level the tie.
With the score level, both sides sensed victory. Loughborough responded well to losing their lead, forcing another good save from the heroic Dudley in the Exeter goal. Just as the tie looked to be heading for extra time, Exeter won a late short corner after a fantastic piece of dribbling from Will Baker. However, with tension mounting all around the ground, nerves got the better of Exeter’s corner taker, as he double tapped the ball and gave away a foul. The final whistle blew and the sides faced extra time and golden goal.
Extra time was, unfortunately for Exeter, a short-lived affair. Within five minutes of the restart, Loughborough secured the golden goal to end the tie. An excellent dribble down the right hand side by the Loughborough winger was followed by a whipped cross into the Exeter semi-circle. As the Exeter defenders closed in, the forward attempted an audacious strike through his legs. The strike took Dudley by surprise, and he was unable to prevent the ball flying into the goal.
The referee blew his whistle for the final time, condemning Exeter to defeat. The Loughborough players went wild with celebration as they advanced to the semi-finals of the cup. For Exeter, however, this was a disappointing display on a day when they were left wondering what might have been.