Hockey: Mayer's magic breaks a 22-year spell: Staffordshire withstand Cheshire's late rally to clinch County Championship title

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The Independent Online
CHRIS MAYER inspired Staffordshire to their first County Championship title for 22 years, scoring one goal and having a hand in another during the 3-2 victory against Cheshire in the final at Cannock yesterday afternoon.

After scoring his first hat-trick in the 5-2 quarter-final win over Hampshire on Saturday and a superb goal in the 3-0 defeat of Middlesex in the semi-finals yesterday morning, Mayer maintained his impressive form against Cheshire.

Mayer tormented the Cheshire defence from the start and, after Staffordshire had squandered a number of penalty-corner opportunities, gave them the lead in the 23rd minute. Latching on to a perfect cross from Martin Oates, Mayer slammed the ball past the Welsh international goalkeeper, Chris Ashcroft.

After Paul Campbell had cleared a Martyn Grimley effort from a penalty corner off the line, Staffordshire returned to the attack and Mayer set up Jas Chana, who shot aimlessly over the crossbar. With Chana and Mayer combining well down the right, Staffordshire won further penalty corners and Ben Sharpe scored a couple of minutes before the interval from their eighth.

Two minutes into the second half they increased the lead when Imran Sherwani challenged Ashcroft for a Mayer cross and the ball broke loose for Oates to score.

Careless defending at a penalty corner allowed Rob Crutchley to pull a goal back for Cheshire in the 40th minute and with four minutes left Justin Pidcock, who had worked tirelessly if at times with little purpose, created the chance for Peter Skates to score their second and provide an exciting climax in which Staffordshire held on for a deserved victory.

In the Under-21 final, Hampshire beat Nottinghamshire 2-1. Steven Ratcliffe scored twice after Stephen Wood had given their opponents a seventh-minute lead.

STAFFORDSHIRE: A Westley (Cannock); Soma Singh (Southgate), J Soor (Barford Tigers), P Campbell (Lichfield), M Boardman (Cannock), J Chana (Cannock), K Takher (Cannock), B Sharpe (Cannock), C Mayer (Cannock), I Sherwani (Stourport, capt), M Oates (Bloxwich). Substitute used: C Abrahams (Isca).

CHESHIRE: C Ashcroft (Neston); P Edwards ((Cannock), B Crutchley (Hounslow), G Brown ( Brooklands), M Grimley (Brooklands, capt), A Crutchley (Neston), D McGuire (Brooklands), J Pidcock (Cannock), A Turnbull (Neston), D Cheshire (Neston), P Skates (Brooklands). Substitutes used: R Beswick (Neston), S Pittam (Timperley), M Renison (Brooklands).

Umpires: H Jamson and A Wooley .

Ealing and Leicester Balsam will contest the AEWHA Cup final at Milton Keynes on Sunday 16 May after winning yesterday's semi-finals in penalty shoot-outs.

Against the league champions, Ipswich, Ealing came from behind with goals from Sarah Lawfull and Anne Green to lead 2-1 at the interval after Sarah Bamfield had put the Suffolk side ahead in the 12th minute.

Bamfield equalised four minutes after the interval and although Ipswich committed Vickey Dixon and Tracy Fry further forward in the second half, the Ealing defence, with Kate Dodd sweeping with purpose, held firm to ensure a 2-2 draw. Ealing then won the penalty shoot-out after Fry's powerful stroke hit an upright.

In the second semi-final, England's Kath Johnson was outstanding for Leicester Balsam in a goalless draw with First Personnel Sutton Coldfield. She then helped Leicester on their way to a 4-2 win in the penalty shoot-out during which Aileen Claxton saved strokes from Sutton's Liz Stirling and Lisa Bayliss.