With Beeston still unbeaten after an impressive win over Surbiton, this week offers a rare chance for the chasing pack to put some pressure on both of those sides at the top of the table.
With the Nottinghamshire club and the Sugden Road outfit both off to Barcelona to play in the EHL, East Grinstead, 3-2 winners over Hampstead and Westminster last week have the chance to go top of the league with a victory over Loughborough Students. Mark Pearn, East Grinstead coach was pleased to leave Paddington Rec with a win from what is traditionally a tough game for the Sussex side, telling The Top of the D:
“We were relieved to come away from Hampstead with three points after being 2-1 down in the second half. To be fair we should really have been out of sight shortly after half time, but a succession of missed chances allowed Hampstead to take advantage and fair play to them for doing so. It was a tough scrap in the end and we clearly need to extend our quality spells over the whole match rather than just ten minutes here and five minutes there.”
Matt Jones, East Grinstead’s Manager echoed Pearn’s relief:
“Hampstead and Westminster call their home ground The Cage and there’s a good reason for that. It’s a very difficult place to go and always a tough game! They’ve had a good summer and strengthened well. We were quite fortunate Richard Smith wasn’t available but they still have plenty of quality in the side. They punished us for missing chances but fortunately we were able to bounce back well in the second half and grind out a result.” He added: “Had it not been for Ian Scanlon in goal we would have won by more. He kept them in it with some incredible reaction saves and stopped some certain goals. In the end I think we had more possession and more chances and probably deserved the win.”
Jones also highlighted the importance of this week’s game, given the potential for reaching the top of the league:
“We’re set up nicely for this weekend. Loughborough are starting to struggle a little which we have to capitalise on. For us, this is a must win game as it could put us top with Beeston and Surbiton not playing. We need to put points on the board and ensure we’re putting pressure on those around us who we’re up against for a playoff place.”
On current form, the game should be straightforward for the Saint Hill side; however Pearn is taking nothing for granted:
“We will be trying to be more consistent on Saturday against a much changed Loughborough team from last season. They’ve had a tough start with a large number of their players away with England U21s in Malaysia and our aim will be to make it as hard as possible for them to find any rhythm when they get to Saint Hill. We will be focusing on giving a 70 minute performance and to repeat the same quality of finishing we have been showing in training.”
Loughborough will be galvanised by the return of their England U21 contingent, but having lost 3-1 to Sheffield Hallam last weekend, their third loss in four games, they know that they need to start picking up points sooner, rather than later to move away from the drop zone.
Hallam who are also strengthened by their U21 internationals returning will be delighted to have earned their first win in the top flight last week. However they have it all to do this week as they welcome Reading to Abbeydale. The Sonning Lane side beat Wimbledon 2-0 last time out, with goals from Jonty Clarke and a trademark penalty corner from Richard Mantell. Coach Charlie Seccombe was delighted with his team:
“We’re happy to get a good result against Wimbledon. They’ve invested well over the summer and were considered by many to be top 4 contenders so to come out with a 2-0 win is very pleasing. I thought we controlled the game for the majority and but for some good saves by Tom Millington we could have scored more.”
A win for the Sonning Lane side could see them go top of the league. The ‘Ding are taking no chances, as Seccombe told TTOTD:
“We’re taking a strong squad up to Sheffield this week. We expect them to be up for it, as Wimbledon were. We’re rotating a few players but still have a very good side out so we’re keen to put in another solid performance.” He added: “Our approach this year is to focus on ourselves. We’re obviously aware of dangerous teams and individuals but we back ourselves that if we play to our ability we can beat anyone on our day.”
Cannock got their season off and running with an entertaining 6-4 win over Canterbury last weekend. The Nockers led 4-0 and despite a late rally by the visitors who clawed the game back to 5-4, a last minute penalty corner from Peter Jackson secured the points. With three teams on three points, Wimbledon on four points and Hampstead, in fifth place on six points, the margin for error at the foot of the table is very slim. Hampstead will be aiming to pull away from the chasing pack with a victory over the Staffordshire side this weekend.
That just leaves the clash between Canterbury and Wimbledon. The Wombles, despite their array of talent have found it tough to get going so far, posting a win, a draw and two losses from their first four games. Canterbury too, have endured a tough start to the campaign. Having seemingly turned a corner with their first win against Loughborough two weeks ago, the Polo Farm side were brought back to earth with a bump by Cannock last week. Canterbury Captain Michael Farrer is keen not panic this early in the season:
“There’s no such thing as a must-win game at this stage. We don’t want to put undue pressure on ourselves, what we want to do is right the wrongs of last weekend.”
The skipper, who scored two of his side’s goals in last week’s defeat added:
“In the first half we were just not good enough. We dominated possession but they were clinical with their chances and we were not. We’ll need to be more clinical and take our chances against Wimbledon.”
Despite a lack of domestic action for two of the form sides, there is still plenty to keep the interest this weekend. With Reading and East Grinstead aiming to put pressure on at the top of the table and five teams grappling to move away from the foot of the table there will be no shortage of drama over the four games.
As always, log on to the England Hockey website for all the results.