After the hugely successful Now: Pensions Men’s Playoffs last weekend at Sonning Lane this weekend it is the turn of the women with the Investec Championship Playoffs.
Last year’s competition was settled in dramatic fashion as Leicester edged out Reading on penalty shuffles. With both sides back for another tilt at the title, along with Canterbury and Surbiton it promises to be a fantastic spectacle. The Top of the D looks at the contenders, starting with the first semi final, between Leicester and Surbiton.
Last year’s winners of this tournament are back to defend their title after finishing top of the league and securing a place in Europe for next season.
The Pukkas have had a typically impressive season, losing just twice over the course of their 18 league games, once to Canterbury (1-2) and once to Reading (0-1) both of whom they could still meet in the final this weekend. To add some balance, they did also defeat Reading 5-0 before Christmas and drew 1-1 with Canterbury in the return game. They beat semi-final opponents Surbiton twice this season, winning 2-1 and 3-1. Their form this half of the domestic campaign has been excellent, winning six games, drawing one and losing just one since the Christmas break.
They have scored the second most league goals this season, (50) and have conceded by far the fewest (16) showing that not only are they difficult to break down, they know how to find the net themselves. Make no mistake, Leicester are very much the team to beat. They have a strong squad with a wealth of big game experience, able to rise to the occasion when the pressure is on.
Final League Position: 1st.
League Record: P: 18 W: 13 D: 3 L: 2 F: 50 A: 16 GD: 34 Pts: 42
Players to watch:
Jo Hunter joined the Pukkas this season having left Beeston and has made an immediate impact. She is the team’s joint top goal scorer with 11 goals this season. Eight have been from open play and 3 from penalty corners. With playoff games typically tight affairs, the 21-year-old’s predatory instincts could prove to be vital to Leicester’s chances of retaining their title.
Maddie Hinch is the heir apparent to the Great Britain goalkeeping throne. Still only 24, she is hugely talented and is rightly regarded as one of, if not the best goalkeeper in the league. The Pukkas’ No.1 was the hero of last year’s final with a player-of-the-match display and some key saves in the penalty shootout. It is no coincidence that Leicester have conceded the fewest goals with Hinch behind an already resolute defence.
Katie Long is an exciting talent to watch. She is a tall, elegant player with pace, skill on the ball and an eye for goal. She seems to glide almost effortlessly around the pitch, but don’t be fooled, she is one of the hardest workers out there. The 24-year-old has matched top scorer Hunter’s tally with 11 goals of her own this season, ten of which have come from open play. She has all the tools to be a match winner for her team.
The London side have enjoyed a successful first campaign in the Premier League after they came up through last season’s promotion play offs. Having seen their men take second place and a slot in Europe last weekend, Surbiton’s ladies will be doubly keen to make their mark on their first Championship Playoff tournament.
They have a decent record against their fellow play-off rivals; although they lost both league outings to Leicester they have taken points off both Reading and Canterbury. They beat Reading 4-0 in the first game of the season and drew with the Sonning Lane side in the return. They swapped wins with Canterbury, beating them 2-1 but also losing 0-1 to the Kent side. Those results show that on their day, Surbiton can live with anyone. Obviously they will need to be on song to overturn Leicester, but their post Christmas form is good. They have won four times, drawn twice and lost twice since the festive break.
Goals seem to be the problem for Surbiton. Having netted just 39 times (only the bottom three sides have scored fewer) they have had to rely on a stout defence (only 24 goals conceded, the second fewest in the league) to build their success on.
It remains to be seen whether Surbiton can overhaul last year’s champions in their semi-final, but with the quality they have in their side, you’d be a fool to write them off completely.
Final League Position: 4th.
League Record: P: 18 W: 10 D: 4 L: 4 F: 39 A: 24 GD: 15 Pts: 34.
Players to watch:
Vicky Bryant is the team’s top scorer for this campaign. Continuing her fine scoring form from last year’s Conference East, where she scored twelve times, she has scored eight goals, seven from open play this time out. Eight goals is no mean feat for any player in their first season in the top flight, but Bryant’s goals take on an even greater significance when you consider she has scored just over 20% of Surbiton’s goals this season.
Georgie Twigg is the star name in a very good side. The Olympic Bronze medallist moved to Surbiton in the summer from Clifton. Twigg has the big game experience to go along with her undoubted talent. Strong on the ball, good distribution and full of running, expect her to play a key role in trying to drive her team towards the final.
That takes care of the first semi final, the experienced heavyweights of Leicester vs. the up and coming, new pretenders to the throne of Surbiton. All the details of tickets and game times are here.
Tomorrow, The Top of the D looks at Canterbury and Reading.