Investec Women’s Premier League: Week 5 Preview.

Investec Women's Finals WeekendCanterbury continued their winning run, making it four wins from four on Saturday with a second half blitz against winless Sutton Coldfield. The Polo Farm side were made to wait until the 42nd minute to break Sutton down but then went on to win 4-0. Player-Coach Jen Wilson told The Top of the D:

“We’re obviously delighted to have picked up maximum points so far. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves though; we know there is a long way to go.” She added: “Sutton were a very competitive and fiery team. They got numbers behind the ball and made it difficult for us to break them down. We knew they couldn’t sustain it for 70 minutes and so it was a case of being patient and waiting to get the first goal.”

Next up for the leaders is Beeston. The Bees opened up with a 7-0 win over Sutton but have not won in the league since, losing 2-1 to Bowdon Hightown this past week. Wilson is relishing the prospect of facing the Nottinghamshire side:

“Beeston are a new team in the league so there is an element of unknown quantity about them. They’re a young side with some good players so it should be an interesting game. We’re looking forward to it and hopefully we can pick up another win.”

Women's Investec CupIn one of this week’s standout games, undefeated Clifton will be aiming to seize on any slip ups by Canterbury as Steve Rixon’s second placed team entertain Leicester. A first half hat-trick from Liz Sinton helped Clifton to sweep aside Olton and West Warwicks this past weekend and Rixon is understandably very happy with the progress his side has made:

“I was quite pleased with our performance in many ways. I thought we used the ball quite well. Olton sat back very deep there were lots of numbers in their half and very little space but I thought when we got going we created a lot of chances and probably should have scored more.”

The Bristol-based team trail Canterbury by just two points and are in fine fettle, but their coach is wary of the threat posed by last year’s Championship Runners-up:

“You can never be too confident playing Leicester. They are a terrific side with some top quality players. We’ll have to use the ball a little bit better than we did against Olton. When we move the ball early and have people running off it, we’re a real threat, when we slow down it’s a problem. If we do things well we’ll give Leicester some trouble. We’re certainly looking forward to it.”

Leicester come into the game having picked up a good point at home to Surbiton last weekend. Despite his side leading from the third minute until the 62nd, Coach David Mayer was still happy with his side:

“I’m very pleased with our attitude and our overall level of performance. It was a tough game against a very good side but I’m happy with the progression we are showing.” He added: “This week we face an in-form Clifton. We will have to be on our game to be competitive against them.”

Olton and West Warwicks’ nightmare run continued as they were beaten 6-0 at home by Clifton. This week they have a local derby against Sutton Coldfield. The game takes on even greater significance as both sides are yet to win and will be desperate to put their first points on the board. Olton coach Harry Jones told TTOTD:

“We’ll do what we always do and set clear objectives to follow. I think we need to improve on our fitness a lot and make simple passes. We’ll work on those things and hopefully take some improvements into our game against Sutton.”

University of Birmingham, the third of the sides yet to pick up a point, host Bowdon Hightown. Birmingham were edged out 1-0 by Reading at the weekend but Coach Phil Gooderham is very upbeat, despite his team’s difficult start:

“We’ve still yet to get a point but I’m really pleased with the girls so far. Ask anyone who we’ve played and they’ll tell you we’re a good side who play some good hockey. If we’d won the points our performances deserved we’d be well clear of the bottom. Sport doesn’t work like that, though and it’s up to us to put things right.”

Bowdon’s winner last week came, unsurprisingly from Tina Cullen. TTOTD asked Gooderham if they were making any special plans to stop the Hightown goal machine:

“She’s such a good player; we’ll try really hard not to give her any chances. Sometimes, you can put all the plans you like in place but Tina will still find a centimetre of room and score a goal out of nothing. We’ll just play our game and hope that she doesn’t get a chance and we pick up the three points.”

Cullen herself was very upbeat after her team got back to winning ways with a 2-1 victory over Beeston last week:

“It was a really tough game and we managed to hold on to the three points. I think we had the better first half and Beeston were the better team in the second half. They were unlucky not to equalise but we defended valiantly to keep hold of the victory.”  She added: “We are delighted with our first four games but know we have some tricky matches to come.”

Investec Women's Hockey LeagueThat just leaves the mouth-watering clash between Surbiton and Reading at Sugden Road. Surbiton come into the match off the back of a 1-1 draw with Leicester but have been in fine form, netting 17 times in their opening four games, picking up two wins and two draws. Reading, too are in good touch. Having put behind them their opening day defeat, the Sonning Lane side have won three in a row in the league, also scoring 17 times. Reading Coach Steve Bayer reflected on last week’s close fought game with University of Birmingham, telling TTOTD:

“I always felt like we had another gear if we needed it. It was a tight game and if they’d nicked a goal first it could have been very different. It was a bit of a battle but I’m pleased to get a win.”

Looking ahead to this weekend and the test posed by playoff rivals Surbiton, Bayer said:

“Both teams have strong squads and it’ll be interesting to see where we both are. It feels a bit like we’re both just coming out of pre-season so it should be a good test.” He continued: “We know they have some quality players but if you start making special arrangements for those players it can affect your performance. We’ll be aware of who to look out for but we’ll just go out and concentrate on our own game.”

With Canterbury edging out in front, hotly pursued by all the teams from Clifton in second to Leicester in sixth, every point is crucial even at this stage of the season. The battles at the wrong end of the table too, have a great significance as Beeston, University of Birmingham, Sutton Coldfield and Olton will want to pick up those vital points to haul themselves back into the chasing pack. The Investec Women’s Premier League this season is already proving to be one of the most open in years, which is exactly what the fans want.

As always, log on to England Hockey’s website for all the results.

All photos courtesy of Ady Kerry.

About thetopofthed

Columnist for The Hockey Paper and the man behind The Top of the D. Writer, podcaster, goalkeeper and BBC Sport man. Used to work for Great Britain Hockey and have covered the sport at every major tournament.
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