European Hockey League: Banbridge through to knockout round of 16

Matthew Bell of Banbridge
Matthew Bell played a big part in Banbridge earning a draw against Royal Leopold

Banbridge will contest the European Hockey League knockout round of 16 for the first time after a dramatic 3-3 draw with Belgian side Royal Leopold.

Both sides had defeated Saint Germain from France in their opening pool game but the 2-0 win for Bann on Saturday edged them ahead on goal difference.

The Ulster side, who hosted the Round One tournament at Havelock Park, will join Lisnagarvey in the knockout stage.

That tournament will be held next April in the Netherlands.

Banbridge off to flying start

Bann got off to a dream start on Sunday, Jonny McKee picking out Eugene Magee and the Rio Olympian slotted home on the reverse stick to open the scoring within ninety seconds of the game getting underway.

Royal Leopold, who included two-time World Cup winner Glenn Turner from Australia in their line-up, regrouped quickly and by half-time had taken the lead converting two penalty corners from Max Plennevaux and Alexis Lemaire.

But for the brilliance of Bann goalkeeper Gareth Lennox it could have been worse.

However the home side, backed by a crowd of over two thousand, showed their character early in the second half as Kyle Marshall slid on to a Matthew Bell push from a corner to deflect the ball into the net to tie the score at 2-2.

Belgians nudge ahead

Almost immediately Dorian Thiery stole in to lob Lennox to restore the advantage for the Belgians but Marshall once again got on the end of a Bell pass to make it 3-3 with 21 minutes to go.

The final quarter was a tense affair as Leopold pushed for the winning goal but with Bell marshalling the defence superbly and Lennox producing a string of good saves, Banbridge held on to record a famous result.

The other three places in the knockout 16 went to Spaniards Atletic Terrassa, UHC Hamburg and defending champions Kampong from Holland, whose goalkeeper is Ireland international Davy Harte.

The Dutch outfit qualified at the expense of local GB international Iain Lewers and his club side Holcombe.