Reading came to BRN on Sunday afternoon needing at least a point to guarantee their return to the top-flight of English hockey - although in truth barring some unlikely results elsewhere their promotion back to the prem was already guaranteed. The M1's were once again suffering from acute unavailability and so decided to take the opportunity of giving EHL debuts to three promising juniors in Adam Hamid, Julian Laird and Luke Hooper.
The game started at a brisk pace and Reading soon won their first penalty corner. This was comfortably defended by Hawks but in the 9th minute Reading took the lead from open play when Hawks failed to manage the ball in defence, it falling obligingly to South African Ryan Crowe who made no mistake off his reverse stick from the top of the circle. Reading cranked up the pressure and a minute later won another penalty corner, this time Ed Ellis stopping on the line and Jack Biggs completing the clearance. Hawks won their first penalty corner four minutes later but Biggs' flick was well saved to his right by Reading keeper Chris Wyver. By now Hawks had established a foothold in the game and the first half turned into a tight affair, with Hawks not giving an inch despite Reading's superior periods of possession. One delightful 'pick-pocket' tackle by Laird brought the home crowd to their feet and with four minutes left in the half a telling ball carry down the left by Charlie Neat, showing lovely hands, drew a foul outside the circle which led to a series of three penalty corners in succession. But Hawks were unable to capitalise and the score remained 1-0 at the half time break.
Hawks' plan to keep the game tight for as long as they could was quickly undone early in the second half when, within five minutes of the restart, Reading had established a three goal lead when first Fred Newbold finished past Chris Price at his near post and then South African international Connor Beauchamp rifled home from a penalty corner. Hawks will have felt that both goals came from sloppy passages of play from their perspective, and they now had a mountain to climb if they were to haul themselves back into the game. But to their credit, they dug in and four minutes before the three-quarter break Kiran Patel made a forceful run down the right which led to a penalty corner. Biggs played a one-two with Neat and although the initial shot was blocked, the ball fell to injector Ed Ellis who gleefully finished for his first goal for Hawks. Going into the final quarter, Reading ensured their game management kept them in control and when Tom Minall restored their three goal advantage the game was as good as won. But Hawks stuck to their guns and Hamid showed his potential with one or two telling passes across the circle from the left which on another day could have lead to a goal. Hawks were rewarded for their perseverance with eight minutes left on the clock when Ellis carried the ball with purpose into the circle before pulling back to find Patel who finished with aplomb past Wyver.
Reading rightly celebrated their promotion at the final whistle but Hawks will take several positives from their performance, including the contributions from their three debutants. So the end of a long and relentlessly tough season for the M1's. But after the first full season after all the Covid interruptions, Hawks have now had a good look at the standards required one step down from the top-flight, and with more hard work genuinely feel they can become contenders at the top-end of Division One. Season 2021-2022 signed off.
Many thanks to Clive Jones for the excellent photos.