PACE-SETTERS Salisbury Ladies have the West of England Premier Division 2A championship in their sights after returning to winning ways with a 4-2 victory over City of Bath at Bemerton.
With five matches remaining and 15 points to play for, they are 11 points clear at the top, writes Mike Vimpany.
After slipping up 4-2 at Swindon a week earlier, Salisbury made a nervy start against Bath and, although Kate Behan gave the city girls a short corner lead, the visitors levelled in a goalmouth scramble.
Salisbury visibly wobbled for ten minutes and, unsettled and unable to gain a foothold in the game, fell 2-1 down.
Bath’s second goal kick-started Salisbury into action and they began to gain control, playing their familiar fluid style of hockey.
With wide defenders Lily Hitchings and the influential Hannah Easterbrook attacking with pace, City of Bath found themselves constantly overloaded and goal machine Kerry McCollum pegged things back with an equaliser.
Then, in a fine build-up, Sarah Dunn was put through – her goal, which put Salisbury 3-2 up just before the break, reward for her tireless running.
“Half time came just as we were in full swing, but we came out determined to wrap things up,” Behan said.
The start of the second half lacked the rhythm of the first, but Salisbury put themselves thoroughly in the driving seat midway through the period.
Some great skill from Jess Hirst and Sonia Ribiero opened up the City defence and allowed McCollum to grab a brace.
Bath pushed home towards the end looking for goals, but the Salisbury defence remained solid and held on for a well-deserved 4-2 victory.
Salisbury’s next action is not until Saturday, March 1, with a trip to basement girls Cirencester (1.10pm).
A LATE Dave Stones goal earned Basingstoke a 3-2 win at Bemerton – a scoreline that maintained their healthy nine-point lead at the top of the Hampshire/Surrey Regional Division 2 and leaves unlucky Salisbury still languishing in the nether regions.
Promotion-bound Stoke, who went out to thump Southend 7-1 and earn an England Hockey Trophy quarter-final spot the following day, got off to a perfect start with a Dean Record opener.
But tenth-placed Salisbury, with a fourpoint advantage over fellow strugglers Haslemere and six points ahead of rockbottom Romsey, equalised with their first penalty corner.
James Hayward’s initial strike was saved by goalkeeper Adam Smith, but Tom Morton pounced to pick up the rebound.
Salisbury’s joy was short-lived as Graham Lang restored Basingstoke’s lead with a penalty corner drag flick.
Just before half-time came the pivotal moment in the match – a penalty flick by the normally reliable Morton was saved by a diving Smith, who stooped low to his right to block the stroke.
Basingstoke wasted several opportunities to stretch their lead but, with young Nick Easterbrook again catching the eye in midfield, Salisbury caught them on the counter- attack with a trademark Hayward reverse stick shot.
It looked set for a 2-2 draw, but, with minutes left, Stones struck the winner to give Basingstoke the points and leave Salisbury still glancing anxiously over their shoulders.
• Salisbury Striders closed the gap at the top in Wessex Masters 1 Division by four points after securing a vital 2-1 win at rockbottom Guildford.