Final score: 1 - 6
About 200 days without a competitive hockey match, the men of Oundle Hockey club were the visitors at Melton Sports Village, and eager to get back to hockey.
Without access to the Oundle School pitches, the team has been restricted to fitness training and a few warm-up games against Northampton Saints. So the team were champing at the bit, despite the unsavoury weather conditions.
A strong 15-man squad made the short trip over to Melton, including the lesser-spotted captain, Tristan Ashby, who has been plagued with injuries over the last few seasons, having seemingly run over a black cat, whilst walking under a ladder, and smashing a mirror.
After a rousing team-talk, the Oundle team set out to make their mark on the league from the off. Things didn’t go to plan, and even with the words of Ashby ringing in their ears, it was Melton who took the early lead. A lapse in midfield and defence allowed the ball to travel to the edge of the circle, leading to a short corner. Maybe the rustiness was showing, maybe the lack of pitch-time was a contributing factor, but the sloppy defending was punished from a well-worked short corner that put the home side 1-0 in front.
Would Oundle react positively, or would their heads drop and Melton go on to dominate? Thankfully for Oundle, it was the former and the goal seemed to snap them out of their malaise. Within a few minutes, and after some good link-up play and sharp passing, Oundle worked their way into the Melton circle to win a short corner.
After a brief, and socially-distanced huddle, Oundle unleashed the world-famous author and tractor driver, George Martin, who dispatched the ball into the bottom left corner like Ben Stokes notching up another boundary at Lord’s.
Oundle could now smell blood, and stepped their game up, with some great movement from the forwards and good passing interplay from the midfield.
The next breakthrough came when another short corner was awarded after some good Oundle pressure. This time Oundle looked to their second ginger option, and Oundle’s Eastern European star, Adrian Milanovic, who skilfully put an unstoppable drag-flicked shot into the top corner that the defender on the post could only watch sail by his head.
Oundle didn’t let up, and a period of flowing, passing hockey resulted in a debut goal from debutant Ed Weatherhead on his debut, who calmly dispatched Oundle’s third.
Mark ‘Macca’ Herickx, returning to his old stomping ground had a chance to add a fourth, as he sprinted into the circle, rounded the keeper, but could only fire wide from the tight angle.
The respite for Melton was short-lived, and George R. R. Martin, showed Macca how it’s done, with a brilliant individual move that saw him nutmeg a defender near the halfway line, and run on to take it round the keeper, coolly slotting home his second and Oundle’s fourth.
At this point it was clear Oundle were dominating the match, and some sustained pressure saw the unintelligible John Pickstone cleverly find space at the top of the circle, where he showed his usual patience, composure and accuracy to find the back of the net.
The half-time whistle was welcomed by Melton who were now looking at damage limitation.
The second half saw fewer opportunities, but did see arguably the best goal of the game. Starting in Oundle’s half, a breakaway opportunity saw Pete Wilson run 60 yards to get on the end of some fine interplay between George Martin and Ed Weatherhead, to slot home what would be Oundle’s 6th and final goal of the game.
There was some disappointment for Martin, who saw a fine goal that would have given him his hattrick, and the match ball, cruelly ruled out by VAR operated by the Melton defenders.
The final action of the game saw Oundle’s player-coach, Peter Ellis, sent from the pitch with a yellow card for a savage ‘ball and all’ challenge, with the umpire clearly unaware of who he was.
A very promising start overall by this Oundle team that blends youth and experience, and a hope that promotion might be the reward at the end of the season.