Southern Gauteng lodged themselves firmly in the favourites’ seat as they continued their victorious run through the Greenfields Senior Interprovincial Nationals with a 3-1 win over KZN Raiders in their men’s A Section semi-final at Randburg Hockey Stadium on Friday.
After a goalless first half, Southern Gauteng broke the deadlock through a Brandon Panther field goal and they then scored twice in five minutes in the final quarter to break KZN hearts.
The result means Southern Gauteng will take on the SA U21s, who earned themselves a place in the final by beating Northerns in a shootout, in Saturday’s showpiece match.
Even though the first half-hour ended goalless, it was a top-class battle of wits between two sides who put a premium on patiently maintaining possession and using the full width of the field, with a strong defensive showing by KZN forcing Southern Gauteng to use a lot of long-ball.
Raiders had the better of the half with a couple of short-corner chances, as Daniel Sibbald and Jarryd Jones put in several penetrative runs. Unfortunately Sibbald suffered a knee injury when he collided with the goalpost and was unable to take the field again, depriving the KZN attack of a crucial weapon down the left.
Southern Gauteng returned from the halftime break with a steely focus and a clear resolve that they needed to up their game and they produced a compelling second half of precision hockey.
They won a trio of short-corners with Julian Hykes, Clinton and Brandon Panther consistently troubling the KZN defence with their sharp attacking skills.
The Panther brothers have been holding court throughout this tournament and they combined beautifully in the 40th minute for a field goal by Brandon, rounding the defence and then shooting home from an acute angle, to end the stalemate.
Jones struck back four minutes later though for Raiders with a superb individual goal, running to the baseline, drawing national goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse, who made a half-stop, before the KwaZulu-Natalian regained control of the ball, ducked inside towards the penalty spot and flicked it under Pieterse for a brilliant equaliser.
But it was a case of the calm before the storm as Southern Gauteng lifted their game another notch and killed the contest with further goals in the 47th and 52nd minutes.
Hykes went on a scything run and passed to Brandon Panther and, with the KZN defence desperately trying to closer him down, he was able to flip the ball back to the penalty spot, where Brynn Cleak was able to slot the ball into the net.
Five minutes later, the hosts won a short corner and, after goalkeeper Gowan Jones saved the initial drag-flick, Brad Venter, the pusher, was on hand to stick home the rebound, taking Southern Gauteng to a 3-1 lead.
They will advance to the final with their confidence at a high and the SA U21s are going to have to find a way to disrupt a team that believes in their structures, has immense composure, plenty of experience and no shortage of skill to get them through any trying times.
Don’t forget that all the matches taking place on the main field at the Randburg Hockey Stadium are being streamed live on Friday and Saturday. The action can be picked up via this link http://antcast.antfarm.co.za/sahockey/April_2016_01/