By Liam Moakes 14/03 Updated: 15/03 10:09
REDDITCH powered to the top of West Midlands Division One thanks to two victories in as many days over the weekend.
The Kingfishers followed Saturday's 6-3 win at Stafford with a 4-1 home success over Leamington in Sunday's rearranged encounter to set themselves up perfectly for tomorrow's crucial match at home to second placed Tamworth.
The Reds go into their penultimate league game at the top of the pile thanks to their vastly superior goal difference but know a win is vital as defeat would more than likely spell the end of their title hopes and possibly promotion aspirations altogether as third placed Market Drayton sit just two points further adrift.
Redditch's players will certainly be in the groove, as some squad members played in three games at the weekend as the club also fielded a mixed team which was narrowly defeated at Solihull Blossomfield in a cup game on Sunday.
Saturday's match was a relatively straightforward affair, with the Reds grabbing a 6-3 win. Paul Markham opened the scoring early in the game with a reverse stick effort from an incredibly narrow angle.
Skipper Chris Thomas then almost doubled the advantage but deflected wide from a shot from Andy Brooks after the Stafford defence had been opened up by a mazy run from Pete Dawson.
Twenty-five minutes into the game the hosts drew level after scoring from a penalty corner but Brooks restored the Redditch lead two minutes later with an effort from a Redditch penalty corner.
The powerful hitman then scored two more penalty corners to give Redditch a 4-1 lead at half time.
Stafford brought the score back to 4-2 early in the second half before Redditch strung together a stunning move of single passes, with Steve Cook, Brooks and Richard Sellors playing a succession of one-touch hockey before Sellors eventually tapped in.
Stafford were not out of it and pulled a goal back after a well crafted move of their own and almost scored again moments later after cutting open the Redditch back line, only to fire wide.
Redditch then put the outcome beyond doubt with another superb goal as Thomas passed to Jason Ellis-Woodley who found Brooks unmarked to slam home his fourth of the game to wrap up the win.
Redditch then faced visitors Leamington less than 24 hours later but, despite the tiredness, the Kingfishers found strength to dig deep to go top of the division, despite some unneeded ill-discipline.
Brooks grabbed his first of the game only two minutes in to give the Reds an immediate lead which was doubled thanks to a fabulous move involving Markham, Ellis-Woodley, Sellors and Cook before Ellis-Woodley poked home.
Superb play from a wise Dave Smith brought Brooks into play to score his second and Redditch's third before half time.
Redditch were pegged back by a penalty corner goal early in the second half and were then let off big time when Leamington carved through the Redditch back line.
Unnecessarily, Redditch were reeling, and paid the price when Ellis-Woodley - tempestuous at the best of times - was sin-binned after appearing to lash out at an opposition player, while moments later Brooks was also sent to the sin-bin for persistently challenging umpire decisions.
Ellis-Woodley, with his reputation for hot-headedness, was wisely withdrawn for the rest of the game by coach Wayne Beard, while Brooks was allowed back on after a spell on the sidelines.
Despite being temporarily down to nine men, Redditch still managed to extend their lead as Dawson's magic touch again worked wonders. The ball almost appeared glued to his stick as he danced through the defence, before turning and powering a reverse stick effort into the back of the net.
Moments later Redditch were back up to 11 men as Beard and Brooks entered play, with Beard replacing Ellis-Woodley, whilst Brooks received a stern verbal warning from frustrated strike partner Smith as he re-entered the fray.
With the Reds up to full strength, Leamington had no chance, and Redditch completed the win to go top.
Just an hour later some of the men's first team - Dawson, Markham, Andy Thomas and Chris Thomas - played their third game of the weekend as they travelled with the Redditch Hockey Club mixed team to play Solihull Blossomfield in the England Hockey Mixed Plate.
Despite leading 4-1 at half time and with the game seemingly won, the Reds were defeated 6-5 in a valiant effort in which the tired team - with the ladies involved having already played on Saturday - were just unable to hang on to their lead.
Gritty Redditch Ladies were defeated 2-1 at runaway leaders Harborne Ladies 2nds in Worcestershire League Division One on Saturday, while Redditch Ladies 2nds were defeated 3-2 by visitors Bournville Ladies 3rds in Division Three.
Redditch 2nds' season-long flirtation with the West Midlands Premier Division is over after they suffered two defeats over the weekend - 6-1 at home to Khalsa and 7-3 at Old Wulfrunians.
Pete Dawson scores his reverse stick effort against Leamington and Jason Ellis-Woodley commits the offence for which he was yellow-carded. Pictures by Rich Randle. (s)
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