BHC 1st Team Crowned Champions of NWHL Div 3

Blackpool Men’s First Team finally secured the North West Division 3 North title with a 6-3 win away at Southport seconds

After last week’s setback, Blackpool required all three points to guarantee topping the division and to fend off rivals City of Manchester and Keswick. Southport had their own motivation as they desperately needed a win to have any chance of avoiding relegation.

With the stage set, the opening few minutes belonged to the visitors as Blackpool camped inside the Southport half. Steve Whitley forced the Southport goalkeeper into a diving save with less than a minute on the clock, and both Jordan Payne and Dave Morgan could have put their side ahead but for an unusually bouncy Edge Hill surface. Sensing their luck was in Southport soaked up the pressure and looked to counter when they could. With their very first attack, a crash ball into the Blackpool area caused havoc and was deflected in past the stranded Nick Rainbow. Blackpool refused to panic and resumed their assault on the Southport goal. Sam Bury made inroads down the left flank and Chris Hocking had his powerful shot well saved by the in-form Southport keeper. Eventually the pressure told as Josh Payne’s cross was turned in at the near post by Hocking to give Blackpool a well-deserved equaliser. Blackpool soon found themselves in the lead through a superb individual goal from Whitley. His mazy run across the top of the Southport area left several defenders swiping at thin air as he burst past the last man and smashed his shot into the bottom left corner. Sensing their season could be over, Southport rallied and began their best spell of the game, forcing multiple penalty corners. With half time approaching they capitalised on the Blackpool defence struggling to relieve the danger and stole in to put the game all square at the break.

With 35 minutes remaining of Blackpool’s championship campaign, they needed an early breakthrough to settle the nerves. However, Southport had other ideas as they began to grow in confidence, sensing the possibility of a famous smash-and-grab to keep them in the league. The tension was clear in both sides and a flurry of green cards were handed out for a splattering of rash challenges. In a moment of madness at a penalty corner, a Southport defender deliberately broke down the Blackpool attack by kicking the ball away, earning him a yellow card and leaving his side a man down. Blackpool seized the initiative and from the resulting corner regained the lead as Rob Dingle deflected Dan Woodman’s ball into the roof of the net. Ten became nine as Southport lost their heads completely, and Blackpool were only too happy to push further ahead. At a two man disadvantage, Southport could do little to prevent the onslaught as Blackpool won a further penalty corner. An inventive routine involving Ian Swaine again allowed Dingle to neatly deflect the ball home for his second. The final blow for Southport came moments later as Rob Abbott spotted an opening from a penalty corner and hammered home his first goal for the club in years; a well-deserved collector’s item for Blackpool’s longest serving player. Blackpool began to turn on the style with Abbott oozing confidence with a weighted aerial ball to Swaine, who’s volley into the path of Morgan drew applause from the travelling Blackpool crowd. Southport grabbed a consolation goal with a late penalty corner, but Blackpool were given one final chance to close their brilliant season on a high as Whitley was taken out illegally by the Southport goalkeeper and awarded a penalty flick. Dingle stepped up and (with a less-than-convincing effort) he sent the goalkeeper the wrong way to notch up Blackpool’s 100th goal of the season, and his first hat trick in a Blackpool shirt to jointly earn him the man of the match award with the highly impressive Whitley.

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