Ipswich ready to fight to the end
HOCKEY: Ipswich will start the fight for their national league lives at near neighbours Harleston Magpies on Sunday. In the first of five games that nobody at the Henley Road club wanted, Ipswich will have to raise themselves again after a league season that saw them finish one from bottom of Division Two of the English Hockey League.
By Martin White
IPSWICH will start the fight for their national league lives at near neighbours Harleston Magpies on Sunday.
In the first of five games that nobody at the Henley Road club wanted, Ipswich will have to raise themselves again after a league season that saw them finish one from bottom of Division Two of the English Hockey League.
The following week they will entertain another regional league winner, City of Portsmouth, before the round-robin tournament culminates at Milton Keynes on the May bank holiday weekend.
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Their task is a tough one as the pretenders to the throne have all enjoyed a successful season and are automatically on a high, just as Ipswich were two years ago.
Now, however, the roles are reversed and Ipswich find themselves in the same situation as Isca, the west country club whom they beat in a thrilling game at Henley Road to take their place for the start of the 2000-01 season.
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Just one goal stood between Ipswich and safety and the side will look back on the first two games – against Blueharts and Hounslow – when they slipped to defeat in the final minute of each match.
A draw from either of those or even a second goal against Oxford Hawks last weekend would, in the final analysis, have made them safe, but the damage was done earlier and, to a certain extent, was largely self-inflicted.
Within a few weeks of the season starting, new signing Jon Slay, who could have proved an influential figure, had packed his bags and returned to Hounslow while after Christmas, Ipswich finally dispensed with the services of coach Peter Hogg.
Midfielder Jeremy Watt has not played all season, Andy Beresford departed earlier this year and John Cuff has been rarely available over the past few weeks.
Those who were left picked themselves up after Hogg's departure and played a more confident brand of hockey, more in the style that saw them sweep through Premier Division A of the East League and the play-offs two years ago.
However, they were left with a mountain to climb and it is going to be extremely difficult for the players to lift themselves for the task ahead.
When the merger talks with Ipswich Ladies, now successfully completed, were ongoing, it was envisaged that Ipswich would have two national league sides next year.
That may still be the case, but there can be no guarantee and it will be a huge blow to the plans of those concerned – as well as some of the players – if the men return to the Printwize East League.
Skipper Asif Rais, who has been the team's most optimistic voice throughout this season, has always said relegation is not an option and he, along with other experienced campaigners, will fight it to the bitter end.
That may come on bank holiday Monday when Ipswich meet Bowdon, the beaten EHA Cup semi-finalists who went out on penalty strokes to Division Two runaway winners Belper.
Between now and then, Ipswich have a lot more hockey to play. It was not their wish to do so, but tired limbs will now be forced to contest another 350 minutes before their fate is known.
Ipswich have the benefit of Paul Calver, Oliver Didham and Cuff returning for the Harleston game and Rais said: "We have got to put the disappointment of what happened last week behind us.
"If we can go to Milton Keynes on the back of a couple of wins, we have every chance of staying in Division Two.
"We know the capabilities of Harleston's Stuart Baker but we must score goals ourselves and go into the game in confident fashion."