The Top of the D has already run the rule over the first semi final with the preview piece here. Now it is the turn of the two teams competing in the second semi final, Canterbury and Reading.
The Polo Farm side have been one of the standout teams of the season. Up until a last-day defeat against Surbiton it looked like Canterbury would finish top of the league and take their place in Europe next year. That defeat ultimately allowed Leicester to overtake the Kent team who had to content themselves with 2nd place instead. They will undoubtedly be keen to gain revenge for that by winning the play-offs, but first they must get past Reading.
They have good record against the other play off contenders, managing wins over Leicester and Surbiton as well as draws against The Pukkas in the return match and a thrilling 5-5 draw against semi final opponents Reading, who they also lost to by 2 goals to nil. Their post-Christmas form is very good, winning five, drawing one and losing 2, although the two defeats came to Reading and the crucial one against Surbiton.
The thing which strikes you about the Kent side is that they are a relatively young team with some older heads added in for their experience. They have an abundance of pace in attack and can really hurt teams on the break. They have scored goals for fun this season, finding the net 57 times, making them the top scorers in the Investec Women’s Premier League. They are not over-reliant on one player to score their goals either: Canterbury have four players in the top 15 scorers for the league, (Jade Mayne, Eliza Brett, Sarah Kerly and Lucy Hyams) sharing 40 goals between them. Simply put, Canterbury’s firepower means they are a huge danger to any side.
Final League Position: 2nd.
League Record: P: 18 W: 12 D: 4 L: 2 F: 57 A: 28 GD: 29 Pts: 40
Players to watch:
Jade Mayne has been outstanding for the Polo Farm outfit this season. The South African international has fitted in seamlessly with Canterbury’s attacking style and has added a bit of international class in front of goal. Mayne has scored 12 goals this season, making her the team’s top goalscorer. Nine of her strikes have come from open play, two from penalty corners and one stroke. Mayne is by no means just a goal threat as she does her share around the pitch, linking up with her teammates However, if Canterbury needs a goal, you can back the South African to come up with it.
Even if a team manages to shut the threat of Mayne down, they will need to also worry about Eliza Brett. Still a teenager, a product of the Canterbury youth system which has produced so much quality over the years, the young star has scored 11 league goals this season. Ten of these have come from open play and just one penalty corner. Brett has the fearlessness of youth but her instincts in front of goal belie her tender years.
Captain Susannah Townsend cannot go without a mention. She is a fierce competitor who simply does not accept second best. Townsend pulls the strings from midfield using her range of passing and her blistering pace to break the defensive line and create openings for her teammates. Yet another home-grown talent, she is fiercely proud of being the Canterbury captain and will bring that passion, alongside her big game experience as she aims to guide her side to the title.
Last year’s runners up will hope that home advantage can spur them on to going one better this year and gaining revenge over old foes Leicester. The ‘ding have already scooped the indoor title with a win at Wembley and will be keen to add the outdoor crown to their ever-growing list of trophies.
In some ways it has been a strange season for Reading. Heavy losses have been suffered against two of their playoff rivals, losing 0-5 to Leicester and 0-4 to Surbiton as well as drawing 5-5 at home against Canterbury in a hugely entertaining game. That said, their record the second time around against the same three teams took in two wins and a draw, suggesting that Reading were approaching something like their best in the second half of the season.
The Sonning Lane side have been in very good form since Christmas, winning five of their games, drawing one and losing one. (Although the loss was a game they forfeited to Sutton Coldfield, rather than losing on the pitch.)
The Berkshire outfit have scored plenty of goals, matching the total of 50 scored by Leicester. Only Canterbury, their opponents in the semi final have scored more. (57).
As is always the case with Reading, they have plenty of experience and an abundance of quality in their squad, so the Championship playoffs will not faze them. The last time they met Canterbury at Sonning Lane, they shared ten goals in a see-saw encounter. I am sure they would settle for a scrappy 1-0 win this time. I can’t see there being so few goals, though!
Final League Position: 3rd.
League Record: P: 18 W: 11 D: 3 L: 4 F: 50 A: 30 GD: 20 Pts: 36
Players to watch:
When you think of Reading these days, you immediately think of Alex Danson. Top scorer for the Sonning Lane side once again, her ability off both front and reverse stick is amongst the best in the world. Danson has scored 13 goals in the league this season, eleven from open play, one penalty corner and one penalty stroke. An Olympic bronze medallist and a multiple time World All-Star, Danson is a class act and a well known difference maker.
Emma Thomas is a player I have a huge amount of time for. She is Reading’s captain and a typically tenacious, determined, passionate player who does not know the meaning of surrender. Don’t be mistaken though, Thomas is by no means just a workhorse. She has a good range of passing and is more than capable of scoring goals, both from open play and as a very useful penalty corner option. You can bet one thing, whatever the outcome of the weekend’s games, she will have given absolutely everything and will have made sure her team have left nothing on the pitch.
Finally, Samantha Quek has, since her move south from Bowdon, become a key cog in the Reading machine. A player with fantastic defensive ability and a superb engine, she is happy to get forward down the flanks and showcase her excellent technical skills in attack. Quek is a fine player who links up well with her teammates, creates plenty of chances but also pops up at the right times in defence. She might not be a headline grabber, but she is still a fine player who more than plays her part in Reading’s successes.
These two mouth-watering semi final contests are shaping up nicely. A galaxy of international stars as well as some stars of the future will be on show at Sonning Lane this weekend for what promises to be a spectacular feast of hockey.
Match reports will follow over the course of Sunday.