League leaders Canterbury, the only side with a 100% record in the Investec Women’s Premier League hope to continue their fine run with a home game against winless Sutton Coldfield this coming Saturday.
Canterbury’s start has been built on a solid defensive platform, conceding just once in their opening three games. They have scored just four times, including two 1-0 wins over University of Birmingham and Bowdon Hightown. It may not be the free-scoring style of last season just yet, but Canterbury are an effective unit and Sutton, who lost 2-1 to Leicester at the weekend will have their work cut out if they are to halt Jen Wilson’s side.
Hanging on to Canterbury’s coat tails are Surbiton, who are unbeaten so far this season with two wins and a draw. The Sugden Road side ran riot at the weekend smashing twelve past Olton and West Warwicks which included a hat-trick for Jenna Woolven. Surbiton face Leicester who are just three points off the top after a derby win over Sutton Coldfield this past week. Leicester star Katie Long was happy with their response in week three after a defeat to Bowdon Hightown in the previous game:
“After a disappointing performance against Hightown, we were eager to make amends. You can never underestimate Sutton Coldfield they always put up a good fight and are dogged right until the end. We kept possession well and we reduced them to limited attacking opportunities.” She added: “We are focussing on improving each week as we are very much a changed side from last season. Our confidence is high after this performance and we will be looking to build on this in the coming games.”
Coach David Mayer was pleased with his first win in charge of the Pukkas but was understandably cautious about their opponents on Saturday:
“Surbiton have recruited strongly over the summer to add to an already quality squad. This will be a very tough test for us against an in-form team. We are under no illusions about the task that faces us.”
Leicester’s conquerors in week two of the season, Bowdon Hightown were narrowly edged out by leaders Canterbury. They have a tricky home encounter this Saturday against promoted side Beeston, themselves hoping to return to winning ways after a defeat by Reading in their last match. Hightown Player-Coach Tina Cullen told The Top of the D:
“Obviously we were disappointed to lose against Canterbury especially in the last few minutes. The game was very tight and it could have gone either way. They defended very well and Mel Clewlow made some great tackles. We were gutted at the end of the game but will pick ourselves up for another tough game against Beeston this weekend.”
After their opening day defeat, Reading have bounced back into ominous form, winning two games in a row, including a 12-0 win over Olton and West Warwicks and a 3-0 win over Beeston. That game featured two goals for Great Britain star Helen Richardson (or is that Richardson-Walsh?!) who is on her way back to her imperious best after a lengthy injury lay off. Steve Bayer’s side welcome a University of Birmingham team who are still searching for their first win of the season after a narrow defeat to third-placed Clifton on Saturday.
Olton are in a miserable run of form, conceding twelve for the second week in a row, taking their goals conceded to 29 in just three games. Having flirted with relegation in two out of the last three seasons through the play-offs, the season already looks bleak for the Warwickshire side. They will hope to arrest their slide with a home game this week, but are against a form team in Clifton.
Clifton, as ever, have gone about their business quietly and effectively rising to third in the league winning two and drawing one of their opening games. Helena Faust looks to be a canny signing for Steve Rixon’s side, and she has scored twice in three games. Els Mansell also got her first of the season with the winner against University of Birmingham. Rixon told TTOTD:
“We made an excellent high intensity start scoring two cleverly crafted goals in the opening 12 minutes. Uncharacteristically we lost a little momentum early in the second half, which Birmingham took full advantage of to equalise. We made a tactical adjustment which returned better control to our game and allowed us to get a good, hard-fought win.”
Despite the run Clifton’s opponents are currently on, Rixon refused to get carried away:
“We will not underestimate Olton and the challenge they pose. Our experience shows us you have to work hard to achieve anything at this level and we will do our utmost to be fully prepared.”
Undoubtedly, the whole league will be keeping an eye out to see whether Canterbury can maintain their perfect start to the season, or whether they will be pulled back in to the chasing pack. Although the season is still in its infancy, advantages both psychological and in terms of points are crucial to each and every side, albeit for different reasons.
You can find out the results of all the games on the England Hockey Website.