A STANDOUT performance from Brandon Horner helped Lithgow Panthers to its fifth men’s Premier League Hockey premiership in six years on Saturday, downing Souths 6-2.
Horner bagged a brace for the Panthers and created plenty more chances on his home turf as well in a man of the match performance.
So great was his influence on the contest that Souths coach Ray Winwood-Smith said that Horner was the difference.
“In the semi-final their goalkeeper was the standout player, in the grand final Horner was the standout player. In big games you need someone to stand up and he did for Panthers,” he said.
“He had an exceptional game, all credit to him, he was the difference between the two sides.”
Horner’s effort meant that for the third year in a row, it was bitter disappointment for Souths.
Having worked hard to clinch the minor premiership this season, with Daniel Carter scoring more goals than any other player and Nick McEwen named the league’s best and fairest, there was one more prize Souths wanted.
They took a step in the right direction when Jono Cole scored the opening goal in the 22nd minute. But as Panthers so often do, they came back.
It took around 90 seconds for them to find the equaliser, they led by two at the break, and pushed out to 5-1 before Souths managed to score again.
“At the end of the day I can’t be disappointed with the effort. The boys put everything into it, we hit the post three times, we had our opportunities, especially in that first 15-20 minutes,” Winwood Smith said.
“We stuck to our game plan, the weather was horrible but it affected both teams. But they played very well.
“Our boys came into the game with a lot of confidence, but unfortunately we were 3-1 down at half-time and we struggled after that.
“It’s incredibly frustrating. I thought our preparation this year was exceptional, all the boys were in the right head space.
“I think the scoreline didn’t reflect the effort, I don’t think it was fair on the guys in the fact that they played better than the scoreline suggests. But it is what it is, I’m not sure what you need to do to beat them.”
While disappointed for his players, Winwood-Smith acknowledged Panthers’ top effort.
“All credit to Panthers, they played exceptionally well, they executed well,” he said.
“It’s just that culture in the Panthers, they’re a side that knows how to win.”
Playing on a sodden turf in rain that at times bucketed down, Horner was quick to make his presence felt.
He hit the post after four minutes and a minute later Souths goalkeeper John Rudge parried away another Horner attempt.
But Souths also had its chances as McEwen showed skill in attack and on 22 minutes Cole found the mark from a penalty corner.
However, from the restart Panthers attacked, earned their fifth penalty corner of the contest and after scramble in the circle, Tom Piggott found the mark.
Two minutes later Panthers had the lead when Jacob Townsend blasted in from the top of the circle, while Horner joined him on the scoresheet before the break to make it 3-1.
Souths was under pressure, but having had four penalty corners in the first half as well as testing shots from McEwen, Andy Cranston and Jono Baillie, they weren’t our of the contest.
That soon changed and Horner had plenty to do with it. He set up Taylor Dolbel six minutes after the resumption and added one of his own with 22 minutes left.
Souths had endured its frustrations during that period as both Cole and Carter were denied by brilliant Logan Hunter saves and another effort hit the post.
Souths did pull one back via Brad Brown with 15 to go, but Townsend found a quick reply to seal victory.
Panthers’ Nic Milne was delighted to notch up yet another premiership with the side.
“It’s a outstanding, three in a row, you can’t ask for anything else. The boys dug deep today, they all played really well,” he said.
“You can’t take Souths easy, you know they show up. If you give them a sniff for five minutes they can put three or four goals away. So it was a credit for our boys to hold them out and not give them a sniff.
“Our half-time talk was to be the first one to score and just keep rolling from there, we couldn’t afford to let them score first.”
Like Winwood-Smith, Milne agreed that Horner’s presence was a decisive factor in the match.
“He scores goals from anywhere and he’s outstanding up front feeding the ball and doing his thing,” he said.
“It’s great to watch him.”