NOW: Pensions Men’s Premier League Week Six Preview.

East Grinstead and Reading both took full advantage of Beeston’s Euro Hockey League commitments, moving level on points with the Bees who face an important double header this weekend.

East Grinstead blitzed a struggling Loughborough Students 8-1 last week to take Mark Pearn’s team to the top of the league on goal difference. Player-Coach Pearn is happy with his side’s development, citing their goal threat in particular as a plus point:

NOW: Pensions Hockey League “I was really pleased to see us return to a consistent performance against Loughborough on Saturday as we’ve not been at our best over the past two weekends. I felt we had to scrap it out for the first 20 minutes or so, but as soon as the first goal went in we started to control the game.” He added: “To score seven field goals and to have six different players getting those goals is really positive for us as it means we can carry a threat from all across the midfield and forward line.”

Manager Matt Jones was similarly upbeat, adding:

“Saturday was a structured, solid team display. Someone commented to me afterwards that we “didn’t do anything special” but that’s what we want. We want to play professionally and be clinical and for teams to see these sorts of displays as the norm for East Grinstead.”

The Sussex side travel to Wimbledon this weekend for what should be a tough test. Pearn told The Top of the D:

“We know Wimbledon have recruited well over the summer since gaining promotion and their recent results probably do not reflect the quality they now have in their team. Naturally we will be confident after last week’s result, but we are working hard to make sure we continue to improve after failing to build on the 9-1 win at Canterbury last month. The good news is that we should be able to select from our full squad for the first time this season after a recent spate of illness and injury.”

Jones echoes the coach’s sentiments:

“You have to play every game with the utmost respect for your opponents. The league is strong and every team has its threats. Wimbledon have plenty of quality and plenty of experience. We will aim to be clinical, professional and hopefully we’ll come away with the win.”

Despite the obvious quality in their ranks, Wimbledon find themselves at the wrong end of the table on four points after a 3-2 defeat to Canterbury at the weekend. The Wombles led 2-0 after six minutes but a spirited comeback from the home side meant Wimbledon slipped to their third defeat in five games. They will be keen to arrest their slide and put some daylight between them and the three teams below them.

With those three teams level on three points at the foot of the table, two of those sides meet this weekend as Cannock play host to Sheffield Hallam. The Nockers were unlucky to lose 3-2 to Hampstead and Westminster last weekend and but for a missed penalty stroke from Dave Beckett in the first half they could have taken something from the game. Coach Andy Mitchell was understandably disappointed after the game:

“I felt that we were punished for our mistakes in the first half. We got caught too often in midfield with the ball and in fairness to Hampstead they took their opportunities well. Second half we were far better. We had far more chances on goal than they had but then we made a schoolboy error at the back and Hampstead got the winner.” He added: “Today demonstrates our season far. We’ve been able to create lots of opportunities but we don’t seem to be able to convert them.”

Hallam continue to earn praise for their competitive displays, but will be aware that they need to put some points on the board if they are to maintain their slot in the Premier League for another year. This weekend they have two chances to pick up those points as they face Beeston on Saturday ahead of their clash with Cannock on the Sunday.

The other side on three points is Loughborough Students. With four defeats from five, sitting bottom on goal difference they have another tough task to follow up last week’s game with EG as they go up against Surbiton. Todd Williams’ side will be full of confidence after reaching the KO16 stage of their first EHL campaign, but their coach is keen that the EHL does not steal focus from the job at hand, telling TTOTD:

“This is a really important weekend for Surbiton as far as recovering and re-focusing from our first EHL experience and making sure we are back on track in the league after our loss to Beeston. League hockey is all about momentum and that is something we really haven’t established yet. With the knowledge that we are in to the KO16 but that it’s not until Easter 2014, there is no reason than to be anything other than completely focused on beating Loughborough, who will be just as keen to kick-start their season.”

NOW: Pensions Hockey LeagueAs already mentioned, Beeston will face Sheffield Hallam on Saturday, before going up against Canterbury on Sunday. Despite qualifying for KO16 Coach Matt Taylor is not 100% satisfied with their time in Barcelona:

“We had a disappointing weekend away at the EHL where we lost one game and won one game but ultimately qualified for the next round. We’re looking forward to bouncing back with 2 good performances this weekend against Sheffield and Canterbury.”

Canterbury will be hoping to build on a positive result last time out as they overcame a strong Wimbledon side 3-2. Captain Michael Farrer was pleased with his side’s performance after a difficult few weeks:

Men's Hockey League“We were disappointed with the way we played at Cannock and with only three points on the board it was important we took something from the Wimbledon game.” He continued: “Wimbledon made an excellent start and played some really nice hockey that put us under a lot of pressure and at 2-0 down within 6 minutes we could quite easily have collapsed. Pleasingly, we battled through the first period and managed to turn it around mid-way through the half to keep ourselves in contention. Continuing where we left off, our second half performance was much improved and it was only some great goalkeeping from Tom Millington that prevented us from extending our lead towards the end of the game.”

Farrer is looking forward to the test they will face against Beeston, but added a note of caution that his side will have to be at their best:

“We’ve always enjoy our matches against Beeston. If last year’s results are anything to go by Sunday will be a high scoring affair. We can’t afford to have another slow start as with the quality in their squad the smallest mistakes will be punished and it will be difficult to find a way back. It was encouraging to create a lot of chances against Wimbledon in the second half but we’ll need to be more ruthless in the D if we want to take anything from the game.”

The final game has Hampstead and Westminster travelling to Sonning Lane to go up against title challengers Reading.

Hampstead saw off a spirited Cannock last weekend to grab a last-gasp winner which took them to fourth in the league. Player-Coach Tom Kavanagh told TTOTD:

“I thought we played really well first half. We played the way wanted to and did all the things we were meant to do. In the second half there was a 20 minute spell where the game got away from us a bit. It was good to see that we battled through that spell and went on to get the points.”

Kavanagh’s team face a Reading outfit in very good form, and the Paddington Rec side’s coach acknowledges the threat they pose but is also excited about the task at hand:

“On the back of last week’s performance we are looking forward to playing against a very good side this week.  They have recruited well over the summer and have played well as a group so far this year.  We welcome back a few people from injuries and will look to continue to improve and play our style of hockey.  There will not be too much focus on Reading this week but more about our own performance.”

Reading Coach Charlie Seccombe is understandably very happy with his team’s progress, telling TTOTD:

Men's Hockey League“Three points is very important. We want to take the title back form Beeston this year so winning each week is a must. In previous years we drew too many games. This year that hasn’t been the case. We’ve been on a nice roll and we’re getting wins even when we’re not at our best.” He added: “I’m confident that if we play to our ability we’ll get the three points. We’re playing well and have some good momentum. The good thing is we have a lot of quality in the group so if the international guys are off a little, others will step up.”

As always, there are plenty of intriguing contests and plenty of games with their own story and their own significance. With the league seemingly starting to show a clear split between the top teams and the bottom teams, every point is crucial at either end of the table.

Don’t forget you can log on to the England Hockey website for all the results and scorers.

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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