There are two massive games at the top of the Investec Women’s Premier League this weekend as table toppers Reading face fourth placed Clifton, whilst it’s second against third as Canterbury host Surbiton.
Reading warmed up for this week’s clash with a comfortable 6-0 win over Sutton Coldfield last weekend. Great Britain star Alex Danson netted a hat-trick to take her tally to ten league goals for the season, five clear of Clifton’s Els Mansell who is second in the goalscoring charts. The game represents a stern examination of both teams’ playoff credentials and is a game Reading Captain Emma Thomas is excited by:
“Clifton have had a really great start. We’re raring to go and anticipating a close game. As much as it’s nice to bang a few goals in we really thrive off the big, competitive games against the top teams, so it should be a good test and one we’re looking forward to.”
Coach Steve Bayer was full of praise for his squad players after they beat Sutton Coldfield last week:
“The whole squad are so important to us, especially for those times when the internationals are away. We’re very conscious of that and it’s something we’ve taken steps to cater for this season. Players like Emma Thomas, Leah Wilkinson, Abi Harper, Becky Halle and so on are so important to the group and it really shows that they all step up when they need to.”
Bayer, like all top coaches, recognises his side have room for improvement ahead of their top of the table clash with Clifton, telling The Top of the D:
“Clifton are a different challenge. They’ve had a good season so far so we need to go into that one with our eyes wide open. I’m sure we’ll deliver another performance and hopefully we’ll be professional like we were against Sutton.” He added: “Perhaps we could work on getting more circle entries and being more clinical from corners but we’ll have a look at those in training this week. Clifton are a really organised side and they’ve strengthened well over the summer. They will be very structured and very strong and they’ll pose a threat in attack too. We’ll do our homework, study the video and make sure we’re fully prepared.”
As mentioned above, the other big game is at Polo Farm where Canterbury go up against Surbiton. Having won their opening four games, Canterbury have endured a tough couple of weeks, starting with a surprise defeat to Beeston followed by a hard-fought draw with Leicester last weekend. Jen Wilson’s side are only two points off top spot and will know a win over title rivals Surbiton will give the rest of the league a real signal of intent.
Surbiton can go above Canterbury with a win after narrowing the gap to two points with a 3-1 victory over University of Birmingham last weekend. Georgie Twigg continued her purple patch in front of goal with her fourth of the season adding to an own goal and a second of the season for Rebecca Herbert.
Leicester and Beeston, both locked together on nine points square off against each other this week in what should be an intriguing contest. Beeston thumped bottom side Olton and West Warwicks last weekend 5-0 including a hat-trick from Suzy Petty and will go into the game with nothing to fear. Leicester, despite their apparent transitional phase collected a point against Canterbury last weekend. Coach David Mayer told TTOTD:
“Yet again I was really pleased with the quality of our performance against Canterbury. That said we need to be more clinical in front of both goals at key moments. This week we face Beeston. We are really looking forward to a local derby, which should produce an excellent game of hockey.”
Bowdon Hightown, secured an impressive point against Clifton last weekend with goals from Tina Cullen (who else?) and Natalie Wray (her third of the season, fact fans.) Cullen’s team will be aiming to stay in contention for the play off places with a win over second-bottom Sutton Coldfield. Player-Coach Cullen told TTOTD:
“We had a much better game on Saturday at home to Clifton. We expected a really tough game as Clifton have started the season so well. We knew we had to come out strong after last week’s poor performance against Birmingham.” She continued: “I think both teams would have thought a draw was a pretty fair result. We probably inched the first half and Clifton played well after the break. We were pretty pleased to come back having conceded the two quick goals.”
Sutton Coldfield Coach Don Vinson was philosophical after his team’s humbling at Reading, highlighting the importance of the upcoming games for his team:
“Today we came up short; obviously Reading fully deserved to win and were a much better team. That’s no problem; we’ll just keeping scrapping and fighting and see what we can do.” He added: “For us it’s about coming and giving a performance and competing as much as we can but also setting ourselves up for our next five games. Whilst our points tally doesn’t look that healthy, we’re looking at the upcoming home games and thinking for us, they are the real key matches. Can we beat Birmingham, Beeston and Bowdon at home? If we can, things will look a lot healthier. The mood in the squad is good and we’re very confident that we’ll be fine and able to put some points on the board to put us in a reasonable position going into the indoor break.”
That just leaves the local derby clash between Olton and West Warwicks and University of Birmingham. Olton’s losing run continued at the weekend as they were beaten 5-0 by Beeston. Their record now reads P: 6 L: 6 F: 4 A: 46, leaving them rooted to the foot of the table but still only three points adrift of this weekend’s opponents. Despite their defeat to Surbiton last time out, Birmingham Coach Phil Gooderham is pleased with the progress his side has made:
“In general I felt we matched Surbiton, at least between the two 25s. They had better quality than us in the D and were more clinical in front of goal which was the difference. I’m not disappointed with the girls. I felt we played very well and with a bit more composure in and around the D we could have got something from the game.”
Despite Olton’s run of form, Gooderham expects his side to treat their opponents with the respect they deserve:
“Three points this week is a must for us. We won’t underestimate Olton as there are absolutely no easy games in the league this year. They haven’t done as well as they’d have hoped but you can see they’re working hard. It took Beeston a little while to score their first goal at the weekend so it shows Olton are improving all the time.”
The game has added significance for Birmingham as they aim to keep the pressure on the teams around them and move away from the foot of the table. The Birmingham coach told TTOTD:
“We need to match or better the results of the teams around us. The week Sutton Coldfield beat Olton we managed to get three points from Bowdon. It might not look much when you see the table but the psychological boost of being above or in touch with those teams is massive. We don’t fear anyone in the league. We respect teams, but if we play to our best we feel we can get a result from anyone.”
Undoubtedly, this weekend is one of the most important yet, with big games across the whole of the division. The two top of the table clashes look to be spectacular games, but those at the bottom will be just as tense and entertaining.
You can see all the results from the weekend’s games by visiting the England Hockey website.