Spalding Hockey Club’s defeat to Basingstoke in Sunday’s National Vase semi-finals dealt a big blow to player-coach Stuart Cunnington’s hopes of breaking a nine-year-old club record.
The 22-year-old hotshot, who has only failed to score in two games this season, is chasing Gary Hales’ record of 65 goals in a season.
Hales, now of Long Sutton, set that record before heading off to test himself at National League level with Peterborough Town and has long been one of the area’s most prolific finishers.
But Cunnington will remove him from the club record books though if he scores an unlikely 13 goals when Spalding take on Norwich City in round two of the England Hockey Knockout Mixed Plate competitions at Norwich on April 13.
He failed to score in Spalding’s dramatic penalty shootout defeat to Surrey and Hampshire Division Two leaders Basingstoke on Sunday, a semi-final which ended 3-3 at the end of normal time.
When Hales broke the record at the same level in 2004/05, the club were again banging the goals in as they smashed home 128 in the league alone.
But they were quickly knocked out of the Vase so this season’s impressive run in that competition has boosted Cunnington’s bid to enter the record books.
Before Sunday, the one game he had failed to score in was one where the whole side had an off-day, a surprising 6-0 defeat at mid-table Cambridge Nomads in October.
Cunnington did score in Spalding’s 4-3 loss at Norwich Dragons which ended their East Men’s League Division 2N season on Saturday, an understandable loss ahead of the next day’s Vase semi-final and Spalding having already won the league.
Among the personal highlights for Cunnington this season are a double hat-trick against Wisbech and a stunning treble inside the opening five minutes of a 9-1 hammering of Bury St Edmunds two weeks ago.
That game saw Spalding take their goal tally for the league this season into double figures, influential captain Josh Rowbottom having the honour of netting the all-important goal that achieved that feat.
With the club record in sight, though, perhaps Cunnington should have pushed on for more goals after his stunning start.
He said: “I took myself off for ten minutes because I was shattered and after that I probably coasted through the game.
“I have never met Gary Hales but I know he was a good player and I set myself a target of breaking his club record.
“Thankfully, apart from that game against Cambridge Nomads, the goals have kept going in.
“It’s sad that we lost on Sunday but I still have the Mixed Plate game at Norwich to give myself another game to try and get the record.”
Cunnington has enjoyed a stunning first full season at the club, having returned from Worcester University.
He has inspired his club to the East Men’s League Division Two North title and they certainly won’t be resting on their laurels next season.
Whereas Hales moved on the season after setting the goalscoring record, Cunnington will aim to help the ambitious club make a further push for promotion. The club set themselves a target at the start of the season of rising two divisions in three years and - with Cunnington banging the goals in left, right and centre - they are now halfway to achieving that dream.
Spalding Hockey Club chairman Fred Morris said: “It’s been a fantastic season for the club as a whole and Stuart has played his part on the pitch, scoring over 50 goals which has been instrumental to our season.
“He’s a very popular lad who fits in well, coaching the men’s team and junior team on Saturday mornings.”