Wednesday March 7 saw UCL Men’s hockey face out of town rivals Reading for a place in the final of the prestigious BUCS Cup. A relatively threadbare twelve-man squad made the short commute to Reading University as injuries began to take their toll towards the business end of the season. Notable absences included Italian international Guilio Ferrini (arm), Chris Bentley (thumb), and David Voisey (dental).
However, despite the squad issues it was UCL who seized the initiative from the pushback. An early D-entry from the marauding Danny Bond resulted in the award of a short-corner with barely two minutes on the clock. A well-rehearsed routine was duly converted as midfield playmaker Joe Melly kept his cool to fire an arrow-like drag-flick into the Reading net. Five minutes later and it was déjà-vu in the Reading defence. Sustained pressure down the right flank from the UCL forwards forced another short corner, this time slipped towards the right from the top to Ciaran Kelly, whose rifled shot found the bottom left-hand corner with consummate ease.
Confidence was running high throughout the UCL forward line and it was only a matter of time before the relentless waves of attacking intent yielded yet another set play. This time the ball was fired in towards the right-hand post where Jonny Bayfield was on hand to deflect home past the despairing dive of the Reading goalkeeper before wheeling away in celebration. The third successive short corner conversion put UCL 3-0 with barely 15 minutes played and the partisan Reading home crowd was reduced to a stunned silence
Not content to merely sit back after their early lead, UCL continued to exert themselves against their lower league opposition. As Reading pressed high up the pitch in an effort to regain a foothold in the match, they left themselves vulnerable to counterattack. An audacious reverse ball from Kelly found club veteran Eoghan McNulty with ample space in the heart of the opposition D. Receiving the ball on the turn, the former Hong Kong international steadied himself well before caressing a finish past the onrushing keeper for UCL’s fourth. Play had barely restarted before McNulty was on the score sheet again. A hopeful cross from Bond wriggled its way through the heart of the Reading defence to the back post where McNulty applied the deftest of finishes for his second in a matter of minutes.
With the result all but confirmed, UCL continued to dictate the flow of the game for much of the second half. Captain Ed James and fresher Luke Wedmore controlled proceedings from the heart of the UCL defence, content to keep the ball for long periods of play, whilst the energetic running of Barny Chapman and Leo Faulke ensured attacking impetus remained very much in the hands of the away team.
Firmly established as the best university hockey team in London, at the time of writing UCLUMHC are still in contention for an unprecedented quadruple win. Having already secured the London League title, a Varsity final against rivals King’s College looks likely for the London Cup, whilst a crunch game against Chichester on Wednesday 14 will decide promotion into BUCS 1A. The BUCS Cup final will be played on March 21 against Canterbury. Supporters are warmly encouraged to come along and watch what is sure to be a thrilling display of high level hockey.