DURHAM University will battle for a place in the country’s top flight after emerging as champions of Conference North in the England Hockey League.
Paddy Harman’s side clinched top spot with a resounding 7-1 rout of Harborne at Maiden Castle in their final game of the campaign, finishing three points clear as rivals Sheffield Hallam Civica could only manage a 3-3 draw away to Belper.
Durham can now look forward to three matches at Cannock in the four-team play-off for a Premier Division place.
The students start off against Conference East champs Southgate on Saturday, April 30, before tackling Exeter University (Conference West champions) the following day and Canterbury, who finished bottom of the Premier, in the potentially crucial final game on Monday, May 2.
Any nerves against Harborne were settled as early as the second minute, when Laurie Hill made the breakthrough, and he quickly added a second. Daniel Coultas converted a penalty stroke for 3-0, before Hill completed his hat-trick in the 27th minute. Patrick Longson pulled one back, but the Midlanders were sunk by three more strikes, courtesy of Tony Wilson, Coultas and Hugh Robinson.
Durham University seconds ended in mid-table in the North League Premier Division, drawing their final match 1-1 at Crewe Vagrants.
Sunderland firsts finished off their championship-winning campaign in the North East League First Division with a draw away to a fired-up Wilton, whose spirited performance belied their relegation.
The Ashbrooke men made the breakthrough shortly before the interval, Chris Brown playing a one-two with skipper Matt Dench from a short corner before placing his shot in the corner of the net.
Nick Campbell and Craig Togher were both controversially dismissed in the second half, Togher eventually receiving a second yellow card to end his afternoon, before the Teessiders grabbed a deserved equaliser.
Sunderland thirds rounded off their promotion campaign in Division Four with another fine win, 5-2 against Morpeth thirds.
Prolific striker Andy Wilkinson led the way with a superb hat-trick, supported by Steve Liddle’s almost obligatory fierce short corner strike and a neat finish by Peter Billyard, who capped a hard-working performance by deflecting in a Liddle short corner.
Sunderland seconds completed a hat-trick of promotions by guaranteeing runners-up spot Newcastle University thirds in Division Two. The Ashbrooke side overcame Hartlepool Caledonians 3-0 in their final game to finish just two points off top spot.
Sunderland fourths have clinched second place in Conference South, but Jonny Argile’s men still have one match to play – away to Stockton sixths on Saturday (11.30am).
Sunderland IV (meet Ashbrooke, 10.30am): Glen Olsen, Chris Maughan, James Magog, James Donkin, George Johnston, Ed Winship, James Bibby, Nial Plunkett, Jonathan Argile, Jonny Raine, Pete Billyard, Andy Gayner, Tom Grant