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Jacques Lévy Supervétérans Tournament 2017

Lille 17-19 March 2017

The tournament was played as a round robin, with a final scheduled between the top two sides. In the end, Welsh Dragons declined to play against England LX for a second time on the same day and the result was decided on the pool placings, England LX being by far the strongest team in the competition and deservedly retaining the trophy for the fifth successive year. The eight teams participating were Eburons Old Lions (Belgium), Egypt, England LX, Italians, Scottish Thistles, Supervétérans France A, Supervétérans France B and Welsh Dragons.

Scottish Thistles, who had finished third in 2016, dropped a place to finish in fourth position, with Egypt, fielding a very much underage side, pipping them to third place. President Kieran McLernan had picked up a knee cartilage injury and was unable to take part in any of the matches, though his vocal support and encouragement was greatly appreciated by the squad.

In the end, inability to beat teams which finished below them in the table was the root cause of their failing to beat or match the performance in 2016. Thistles played some sparkling team hockey at times but frustratingly they sometimes relied too much on individual runs and direct moves against packed defences.

Squad

John Candlin, Ian Downie, Donald Dunbar, George Finlayson (Captain), Derek Johnstone, Ian McCreath, Kieran McLernan (injured - did not play), Brian de Mattos, John Michalik, Duncan Mitchell, Alistair Ogilvie, Alan Parker, Dick Pearce (GK), Keith Raper, Tony Walker, Neil Ward

Tim Lorimer was manager and Jackie Parker tour organiser. Mairi de Mattos, Catherine Downie and Eileen Pearce came to help their husbands off the pitch.

Scottish Thistles Lille 2017

Scottish Thistles 0 England LX 3

In their opening match, Scottish Thistles faced tough opposition in the form of England LX. Thistles started on the front foot with Derek Johnstone and George Finlayson prominent in centre midfield, and penetrated the English circle on several occasions. Twice they had the opportunity to put the ball in the net when an English defender half cleared the ball, and twice they failed to take advantage of the chance. That was to cost them dear. With ten minutes gone, LX had scarcely crossed the half way line but a long ball behind the Scottish defence found right back Donald Dunbar being forced to clear behind - short corner to England LX. Bang and the ball was in the back of the net from a straight shot at the corner and England LX were one up, totally against the run of play. Thistles continued to play good hockey but became less and less able to breach the English defence, and the half ended 1-0.

This was the proverbial game of two halves because the English took command of midfield from the start of the second half and Scottish Thistles never got a look in. Intense English pressure resulted in the award of two short corners, duly despatched to put LX out of sight, Thistles failed to trouble the English keeper, though Derek Johnstone found himself on the ball in the circle with his back to goal - he couldn't conjure up a shot and the chance was gone.

Supervétérans France A 2 Scotland LX 0

Scottish Thistles took a firm grip from the start against Supervétérans France A in their second match of the first day, exerting constant pressure on the French defence and keeping their midfield firmly in check. The French defence stood firm against almost constant bombardment from Thistles but all they had to show for their pressure were a couple of short corners, easily dealt with by the French number 1 runner who was out very fast on the Scottish striker Derek Johnstone. Thistles were caught out by a long ball right down the middle which was contested by Ian Downie and the French left winger. The ball spun loose and the French forward poked it into the empty goal with the despairing Dick Pearce unable to catch up with its stately process across the line. Worse was to follow just before half time when a speculative ball from the right wing was left by the Scottish keeper and bounced off the post to an incoming Frenchman who had the easiest of tasks to score. 2-0 to the home side at half time.

The second half continued as the first, with Scottish Thistles totally in command of the game but unable to find the final pass and shot to beat the French keeper. Alistair Ogilvie was desperately unlucky when, with one of his characteristic horizontal dives, he made contact with a hard drive by Derek Johnstone across the goal. The ball hit the post and rebounded off the goalkeeper behind for what should have been a long corner but which the Italian umpire unaccountably decided should be a sixteen for the French.

The match ended 2-0 to Supervétérans France A, leaving Scottish Thistles with only a slim chance of making the final on the last day of the tournament. The result was a poor reward for some excellent possession hockey and almost total dominance throught the match.

Eburons Old Lions 0 Scottish Thistles 3

The second day began with the water based pitch, which had been dry and sticky on the first day, given a good soaking by heavy overnight rain, which thankfully had eased off by the time the early morning match between Scottish Thistles and Eburons Old Lions began. The plan was to use the wings to counter the Belgian defensive strategy of protecting the middle of the pitch in midfield and defence, but for the first ten minutes, Thistles continually tried to work the ball down the centre of the pitch, eventually running into a solid Belgian defence in the circle. They had virtually 100% of the possession, the Scottish midfield closing down their opponents and giving them no chance of distributing the ball forward. In what was almost a replay of the French game the previous day, loose balls in the circle always seemed to go the way of the Belgians, or clashes of sticks resulted in free hits to the defence. Finally, John Candlin found some space in the inside right channel and directed a well placed shot across the Eburons keeper just inside his left hand post to put Thistles one up. Almost immediately, the penny dropped and the Scots started to play the ball down the wings, and it was only a matter of minutes before they scored again. The ball was passed across the back from Keith Raper to Donald Dunbar on the right. Donald drove down the wing and cut the ball in to Alistair Ogilvie who was on the goal line. Alistair cut the ball back to the incoming Derek Johnstone who calmly beat the Belgian keeper - a great, team goal. The third goal came from an equally flowing move down the left wing, Ian McCreath picking up the ball for the defence and driving down the wing before cutting the ball back for Alistair Ogilvie to make the score 3-0.

With three bonus points in the bag for the three goals, Scottish Thistles took the opportunity to make four substitutions at half time. They continued to dominate down both wings but too often the final ball into the circle was crashed in diagonally for the Eburons defence to mop up - it would have been much better to have taken the ball to the goal line or fed it in to a striker on the goal line. Credit must go to Captain George Finlayson who found himself four yards from goal and somehow managed to put the ball over the bar. Eburons had their best spell of the match in the final few minutes, for the first time passing the ball into the Scottish circle, but the Thistles defence had no problem clearing the ball and keeper Dick Pearce did not touch the ball in the whole match.

The result left Thistles on eight points, with six points available for each win if three goals are scored. There was still a chance of a place in the final if they could win their remaining matches by at least three goals, and if they played to the same standard as in this match, there was no reason why they could not claim at least second place in the pool matches to qualify for the final.

Scottish Thistles 1 Welsh Dragons 1

The fourth match of the tournament was a scrappy and bad tempered affair, the robust tactics of the Welsh not being penalised by the umpires. There was none of the fluent hockey which Scottish Thistles had produced in the third match, the Welsh deploying five players across the midfield and largely stifling the Scottish midfield. Chances were few and far between though Thistles had around 60% of possession. The Welsh plan of attack was to play hard, through balls to forwards who sat high in the Scottish circle, and the plan paid off when defenders Keith Raper and Ian Downie went for the same man, the ball rebounding favourably for the Dragons forward who pushed the ball into the empty net. Thistles reorganised the midfield, pulling Neil Ward back to sweeper and bringing on captain George Finlayson, and from then on they started to take command of the midfield. However they found it difficult to use the wings because of the midfield set up of the Welsh and most of the attacks were mopped up on the edge of the Welsh circle. The first half ended 1-0 to Welsh Dragons.

Dragons did everything in their power to stop the Scots coming back into the match, including blatant body checking and stick tackling which was not punished by the umpires. The Scottish defence found it difficult to find their midfield colleagues through the wall of Welsh midfielders and Dragons took advantage of turnover ball to win two short corners, which they used to waste time by holding extended huddles. Thistles continued to grind away at the Welsh but nothing fell to a Scottish stick in the circle. With five minutes to go, a net bound shot by Alistair Ogilvie hit a Welsh defender on the line and Scottish Thistles were awarded a penalty stroke, which Derek Johnstone calmly slotted home to level the scores. More Scottish pressure followed for the remaining part of the match but Dragons absorbed the pressure and cleared long, mopping up the time, and the match ended in an unsatisfactory draw, suiting the Welsh more than the Scots who were now on eleven points with three matches left.

Scottish Thistles 0 Italians 1

In the final match of the third day, Scottish Thistles once more failed to match the high standard set in the early morning match. Too many passes went astray and too many players went on long runs with the ball, only to lose possession to an uncompromising Italian defence. John Candlin in particular must have felt like a rubber ball the number of times he was bounced on to the floor by an opponent - once again the umpires failed to take decisive action. The Italian defenders relied on long, crash balls to their forwards, missing out the midfield, and this resulted in a couple of short corners in the first half which were dealt with easily by the Scottish short corner defence. At the other end, Thistles won a similar number of short corners but with the same result. 0-0 at half time.

It was a short corner which cost Scottish Thistles the game, the Italian striker firing in a fierce shot which hit both of Dick Pearce's pads before rolling agonisingly across the line. Minutes later, the Italian keeper should have been red carded when he blatantly wiped out Derek Johnstone after the Thistles midfielder had rounded the keeper and was set to put the ball into the empty net. To add insult to injury, he then saved the ensuing penalty stroke. The Italians rode out the rest of the game fairly comfortably to leave Scottish Thistles virtually out of contention for the final and facing their worst ever finish in the tournament.

Scottish Thistles 3 Supervétérans France B 0

The final day dawned grey and drizzly, more like Aberdeen than France, and in the first half against Supervétérans France B the hockey matched the weather. Scottish Thistles had most of the possession but rarely made it far into the French circle, a resolute French defence standing firm in the face of too direct Scottish attacks. The French offered little attacking threat, failing to pierce the Thistles midfield, though they managed to put some pressure on the Scottish defence on the only occasion that they managed to break into the circle, managing a shot which went past the post. Derek Johnstone had a chance to open the scoring for Thistles when he broke through the French defence, for once sitting high, but the French keeper was equal to him and parried his shot to keep the scores even. 0-0 half time.

Thistles reorganised at half time and started to make better use of the wings, though they still had a tendency to try to take on the French defence by running straight at them. The breakthrough came at the mid point of the half when John Candlin fed the ball to Donald Dunbar on the right wing. Donald took the ball in and cut it back to John, who squared it to Derek Johnstone to net the first goal - a great move. The second goal came from a short corner. John Candlin's shot was parried by the French keeper who saved a reverse stick flick from Ian McCreath, following up. The ball rebounded to Ian who netted with a second reverse stick flick. In the final minute, another right wing cross from Donald Dunbar found John Candlin in the clear and John's shot hit a French defender on the line to give Thistles a penalty. John took the penalty himself and made no mistake to claim the third bonus point with a 3-0 victory.

Scottish Thistles 2 Egypt 2

Scottish Thistles were desperately unlucky not to win their final match against Egypt. Knowing that Egypt, fielding a number of players well under sixty, would play through the middle of the park, Thistles were set out with six players in midfield and a single striker. In the first half, this structure proved difficult for Egypt to overcome, and the Scots proved to be quick on the break, with Alistair Ogilvie doing a fine job as sole striker. John Candlin played the ball out to Donald Dunbar who found Alistair in the clear and he cut it back to Derek Johnstone who beat the Egyptian keeper with a fine shot. Thistles continued to threaten on the break and the same combination, in reverse, produced the second goal, Derek Johnstone lifting a long diagonal ball past his opponent to Alistair Ogilvie whose reverse stick shot beat Johan Herbert in the Egyptian goal for the second Scottish goal. The half finished 2-0 to Scottish Thistles.

The Egyptians were a robust and vocal side, resulting in three green cards, but they gradually took the upper hand in the second half. The Scottish midfield retreated further and further back, playing into the hands of the Egyptians, who began to fire the ball from closer distances into the Scottish circle to their lively attackers. The Scottish defence prevented any direct shots on goal but gave away a succession of short corners. With less than five minutes left on the clock, Egypt reduced the deficit with a fierce shot from a short corner to make the score 2-1. Thistles continued to resist but found it impossible to clear the ball out of defence and, with time almost up, conceded a final short corner. By the time Egypt took the corner, time was up, and it looked as if Thistles had won the game when the first striker was closed down. However the ball went loose and was fired in by an Egyptian from the right, the netbound shot deflecting off a Scottish stick and going high into the net past keeper Dick Pearce.

Pool Results

Scottish Thistles 0 England LX 3
Supervétérans France A 2 Scottish Thistles 0

Eburons Old Lions 0 Scottish Thistles 3 (Candlin, Johnstone, Ogilvie)
Scottish Thistles 1 (Johnstone) Welsh Dragons 1
Scottish Thistles 0 Italians 1

Scottish Thistles 3 (Johnstone, McCreath, Candlin - pen) Supervétérans France B 0
Scottish Thistles 2 (Johnstone, Ogilvie) Egypt 2

Table

 PWDLFAPts
England LX751116232
Welsh Dragons73328424
Egypt73317423
Scottish Thistles72239922
Italians73134120
Supervétérans France A73225320
Eburons Old Lions714211112
Supervétérans France B70700187