England Hockey League, Men’s Premier Division Preview: Part 2.

The Top of the D has already looked at half the teams in the Men’s Premier Division here. Now comes the other half of the division in part two.

Team: Hampstead and Westminster.

Final Position Last Season: 7th.

Key Men: Dan Fox, the cult hero of Twitter and the subject of #Foxfacts also plays a bit of hockey. He will be buoyed by his Olympic experience and will be tasked with marshalling a defence that shipped 49 goals last season, only the two relegated sides conceded more. If there’s a man for the job of sortin that out, it’s Fox.

Iain Mackay is the marquee signing of the summer for Hampstead and Westminster. Joining from Reading he brings his considerable experience, both domestic and international to a side that was lacking that certain something. There is no question he is a class player who will make a difference.

Summary:

Defeated in the cup final after a pretty mediocre season in the league. Out of the running for the Championship Playoffs and safe from relegation. H&W have seen a huge turnover of players this summer with somewhere in the region of seven new faces replacing ten departees. If they don’t gel quickly, it could be a long season.

 

Team: Loughborough Students.

Final Position Last Season: 6th.

Key Men: Richard Dawson-Smith has returned from a spell abroad and will be raring to go in the Students’ midfield. The 21-year-old will use his experience to pull the strings from the middle of the park.

Sam Ward was the team’s top scorer last season with nine goals. He will carry their main goal threat from open play again. As I keep saying, goals are a valuable commodity, making Ward’s poaching a vital part of the Students’ efforts this year. Likewise, expect Andy Bull to contribute some goals from penalty corners too.

Summary:

The departure of Richard Smith to Belgium will be a blow keenly felt by Loughborough. A player of that quality is always difficult to replace, but the return of Simon Faulkner, another who has played abroad, should plug that gap. The Students will hope to have a more successful season than the last and could easily push for the play offs. Perhaps a run in the cup would be their best hope of success, however.

Team: Reading

Final Position Last Season: 3rd (League) Playoff Winners.

Key Men: For me, Jonty Clarke is one of the best attacking players in the league. He has terrific close control, is able to cause defences problems from wide and through the middle and chips in with his share of goals. With less international commitments this season, Reading stand to benefit greatly from the 31-year-old’s talents.

This season will be a defining season for Darren Cheesman. A former Great Britain Under 21 star, Cheesman is now 26. Having joined from East Grinstead, where he had gone a little flat, Cheesman believes Reading is the club that can allow him to display his considerable talents and reach his full potential. There is no doubt the ability he has, and if he clicks with his new teammates, this could be a vintage season for both.

Andy Watts was Reading’s top scorer last time out with 12 goals. He notched the all-important winner in the Championship Final against East Grinstead. He might not be one of the ‘Ding’s household names, but it doesn’t make him, and his goals, any less important.

Summary: Losing Nick Brothers (retired), Nick Catlin (joined Racing in Belgium) and Iain Mackay (Hampstead and Westminster) threatens to leave a huge hole in their squad. However, the introduction of Craig Peel from Fareham, regarded by many as the best player in the West Conference last year, along with the return of their international stars, and the introduction of some good up and coming players actually makes the Sonning Lane side’s squad look very competitive.

It will be interesting to see how Jamie Legg, for so long Nick Brothers’ deputy fares as he steps into the limelight after Brothers’ retirement. However, the fact that Reading have not recruited another goalkeeper suggests they believe Legg has what it takes. I fully expect Reading to be in the mix at the end of the season, trying to defend their title.

Team: Southgate

Final Position Last Season: 8th.

Key Men: Player-coach Chris Hibbert is still a pivotal figure in the Southgate ranks. The 36-year-old goalkeeper was once the best around, and whilst not scaling those heights these days, he is still a superb goalkeeper. With his team expected to spend a lot of time under pressure, his ability to keep chances out could be the difference between surviving for another year, or the drop.

Goals were a real problem last year, as Dan Shingles was top scorer with just four league goals. Either Shingles will have to up his tally, or the goals will have to come from the midfield. Either way, those goals are crucial if Southgate are to make an impact.

Summary:

Southgate avoided the relegation play offs by just one point last time out. Seemingly shy in front of goal (netting just 22 goals last season, the lowest in the top flight) they will have to build their campaign on a solid defence. The introduction of a few new faces may give them fresh impetus, but without a huge influx of top quality signings it is likely they will be battling the drop once more.

Team: Surbiton

Final Position Last Season: 5th in the league, knocked out of play-offs by Beeston, finishing fourth.

Key Men:

As with most sides in the Premier League, the return of international stars is a huge boost for Surbiton. With Rob Moore and James Tindall likely to be available on a regular basis, expect these two to supply the goals to fire Surbiton to the top end of the table. Tindall actually managed eleven goals last time out. Imagine the return if he plays weekly.

On the goals front, Tim Pinnock wound up Surbiton’s top scorer last season, bagging 15 goals in the league. A potent weapon at penalty corners and a creative threat down the flanks, expect Pinnock to have another good year.

Summary:

A team brimming with attacking potential, but looking slightly weaker at the back. The departure of Richard Alexander is a surprise and a loss that will be keenly felt, whilst the changes at the back also include losing Ken Forbes, (an international) and goalkeeper Chris Bristow. Whilst Bristow’s place is taken by the Welshman, David Kettle, it remains to be seen whether these changes will unsettle them. The return of the international contingent will be like new signings, so hopefully for Surbition, they can sneak into Europe.

The previews for the Investec Women’s Premier League can be found here.

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