A sun-drenched Garscube saw the Glasgow University Hockey Club (GUHC) win against the University of Abertay to secure their place in the final of the men’s Scottish Conference Cup.
Strong recent showings and the lower league opposing side made Glasgow heavy favourites for the game but, as the old football adage goes, anything can happen in a cup game.
Abertay seized the early initiative and found themselves camped out in the GUHC half, maintaining strong possession but never really capitalising on the home team’s slow start. The Glasgow defence looked resolute and stifled any real attacking attempts made by the Dundonian squad.
Slowly the Glasgow midfield engine rumbled into life and incisive play from the defence was matched by runners piercing and
besieging the Abertay defence, critically fracturing the fragile northern side’s early attacking confidence.
One such attack resulted in Ryan Bell darting in from left wing and breaking the deadlock with a smash from the edge of the area, swiftly followed by another close-range finish from Bell pouncing through the disorientated Abertay back four and squeezing the ball through the confusion and past the helpless goalkeeper.
Abertay were over a barrel as Glasgow finally asserted some superiority. The wingers began to stretch their legs as the holding men worked the ball deep in the midfield just out of stick’s reach of the northeners, then suddenly sparked into life with pinpoint passes and driving runs into dangerous areas. More goals seemed inevitable — it was just a case of how many.
A lull in Glaswegian aggression marked the midpoint in the first half — a couple of missed goal opportunities at either end would fool a spectator into believing that the home side were happy to sit on their two-goal margin for the rest of the match.
Such illusions were shattered as some authoritative play by GUHC captain Finlay Horn led to a penalty corner, with the man himself scoring the goal from a simply worked play. The celebrations had barely reached the bored Glasgow keeper as another basic play baffled the desperately disorganised defence and Mark Campbell was on hand to sweep the ball home for to take Glasgow’s lead up to four.
The frustration of the losing side became apparent as a stick was thrown in anger in Abertay’s end of the field; a result of intense passion that turned rapidly to embarrassment as the Abertay player was forced to make the lonely walk past the heckling spectators to collect the offending article. His shame compounded as the next wave of attack skipped past him and Rory McCann slammed home another goal to complete the first half rout and fuel speculation that the defender really should have just left his stick where it landed.
Play slowed to a crawl as GUHC somewhat relinquished their stranglehold on the game, allowing Abertay a chance to reclaim some pride. Stealing two goals from a tiring Glasgow side went some way towards softening the blow before the halftime whistle rang out.
The second half saw a home side clearly playing with a cup final and promotion-deciding double-header on its mind, coupled with an air of confidence. Play was very much dominated by an Abertay side on the ascendency, showing some flare in attack and winning balls but ultimately failing to hit the back board, as they lacked the cutting edge of the Glasgow frontline.
Deeper into the second half and Glasgow shook off the lethargy that had cost them two goals in the first half, and in a burst of energy struck back in equal form — two quick fire goals to re-establish their five goal buffer. As Glasgow settled back, the game again became more balanced, but only to the extent that both sides recognised the game was over, with the Glasgow keeper’s goal-stopping acrobatics being the only highlight as the match drifted to a close — perhaps a message to others competing for the position that he will definitely be the first name on the team sheet for the duration.
As the Glasgow team celebrated their deserved victory the mood after the game was summed up by captain and goal scorer Finlay Horn: “We’ve played some great hockey leading up to this semi-final stage and we carried that on today. Who knows — maybe we should have won by even more. But I know one thing: when we play like this I wouldn’t bet against us.”
With the glint of silverware firmly in sight and confidence running high in the Glasgow camp all eyes are on the upcoming final against city rivals Glasgow Caledonian University. Horn, in a strong statement of intent from a side that can do no wrong at the moment, said: “If we play the way that I know we can, then it has to be silverware for the GUHC. It will be a massive game especially because they are such big rivals, but we want to win regardless of who we are playing.”
History shows cup finals to be treacherous things — often strong favourites are brought down by lesser opposition. Glasgow may have a better record against their upcoming opponents, but weaknesses at the opening and close of each half against Abertay must give the team something to think about before the final against Caledonian’s squad.
In order to reach the next level they need to stamp out that level of indiscipline and work on maintaining their concentration — even when games look all but over. With expectations of a closely fought match, vocal support from a good University of Glasgow turnout on the day should inspire the boys in black and gold to bring a little silver back home.