READING men missed out on reaching the England Hockey play-offs by just one point, writes Dave Wright.

Their 3-1 win over rivals Holcombe at Sonning Lane on Sunday saw them end the season on 27 points, the same total as fourth-placed East Grinstead – who at the same time were beating University of Exeter 2-0 – but with an inferior goal difference of seven.

However, head coach Jason Lee is still pleased with fifth spot in the Premier Division, as he had to build a brand new squad after losing most of the previous season's team which contained a number of internationals.

He explained: "With the team having changed so much, to just miss out on goal difference is something I think we can be proud of."

Blues went into the game with Holcombe without forwards Lee Morton and Peter Scott, who on Sunday evening flew out with the GB squad for their FIH Pro League match against Argentina this coming Saturday. If Scott plays, it will be his debut.

In their absence, Matt Richards stepped up to score two of the goals, in the 14th and 51st minutes, leaving him with seven for the season and the team's top scorer.

Also on target for the hosts was teenager Fred Newbold, his second goal in successive games, while Holcombe's reply came from Matt Symonds after 47 minutes.

With Liam Sanford and Charlie Ellison also out due to injury, Blues gave a first-team debut to 17-year-old Sam Welsh, who this season was selected for England Hockey's Futures Cup before switching allegiances to Wales, for whom he has made appearances in Under 18 and U21 sides.

Lee commented: "Yes, we have been missing internationals, but their absence has given us a nice opportunity to give other people a game.

"We have played a lot of young kids and they are the ones who turn up for training and give their all the whole time, so it was nice to give them an opportunity to play."

Lee and his assistant, Danny Newcombe, are expected to continue to lead the men’s performance programme next season, although Lee joked the final decision will rest with his wife.

Team manager Tim Hamilton commented: "We are confident of retaining the vast majority of this season's squad, but we plan to add some quality with a number of players returning from university and abroad."

l READING women will be playing in the new Division One South of the Investec Women's League next season.

They secured the sixth and last guaranteed spot with the point they secured from a 1-1 draw with Isca at Sonning Lane on Saturday.

But it was a close call as they would have dropped a place if Olton & West Warwicks had won at Exeter rather than drawn 0-0.

Blues had several chances to win their final game of the season, but could only manage to get the one goal, which came from Jo Ellis in the 17th minute.

It was the player-coach's 10th goal of the season, leaving her the side's top scorer for the campaign.

Reading kept the lead until the 57th minute before third-choice keeper Liz Smith was beaten by a shot from Kim Sheldon.

It was skipper Esme Swindell's last game for Reading as she is one of three players leaving the area.

The Sonning Lane club will know their nine opponents in Division One, which will stand between the Premier Division and the three Conferences, once the promotion/relegation play-offs have been completed.