Wimbledon Ladies will have to wait another year for promotion after they agonisingly lost their crucial play-off fixture to Buckingham 4-3 today.
A double from Libby Sherriff and a last-gasp penalty corner from Crista Cullen were not enough for The Wombles as they succumbed to a spirited Buckingham outfit, who in turn will be promoted to the Investec Women’s Hockey Premier League next season.
The result is a bitter blow for Wimbledon, who dominated the Conference East title earlier this season, scoring 71 goals and clinching the title with an emphatic 10-0 demolition of Northampton Saints.
However, despite her disappointment at the result, captain Nikki Lloyd said she could not be more proud of her team’s efforts throughout the season and is already turning her attention towards next season’s promotion push.
“I’m gutted, not that there’s any other emotion you should be feeling really,” she said.
“We put everything out there, we really, really did – I couldn’t have asked anything more of the team and the management and everyone but we are all gutted.”
“Most of the girls are now going to have a nice break and give the bodies a rest, then we have a summer pre-season fitness programme and we’ll get back on the pitch. We’re already excited for next year.”
Having lost to Bowdon Hightown yesterday, Wimbledon knew that a draw would be good enough to see them reach the top tier as, despite being tied on points and goal difference with Buckingham, they had scored more goals.
But it was their opponents who started the game the strongest and took an early lead through Kitty Higgins as she superbly deflected home a penalty corner in the third minute.
Sherriff then levelled the scores four minutes later, turning the ball home following a goal mouth scramble after Cullen’s penalty corner was well blocked.
Buckingham regained their advantage in the 13th minute after a fine save from Rose Thomas fell into the path of Tash James to nudge the ball home, but Sherriff was on hand to equalise again six minutes later.
The game was an even affair thereafter until Cullen was handed a yellow card for a foul after 44 minutes, an event that proved to be the turning point of the game as Buckingham scored twice while the Rio gold medallist was on the bench.
Captain and England star Zoe Shipperley scored from the penalty corner that resulted from that indiscretion, before Higgins got her second of the game from another set piece.
Desperate not to let the chance of promotion slip, Wimbledon fought valiantly and finally pulled a goal back with 50 seconds left to play as Cullen’s flick was deflected past the Buckingham goalkeeper, but it was too little, too late.
Although they may not have achieved their ultimate goal of promotion to the top tier, Lloyd believes her team should be more than happy with their immense season.
The Scotland captain said: “I’m so proud of this team, they have been just unbelievable.
“After today’s game we were all in a huddle together – there was nothing that any other player could have given.
“Everyone gave absolutely everything and I’m so, so proud of the girls.”