NOW: Pensions Men’s Premier League Preview: Week 7.

Another week of NOW: Pensions Premier League hockey is upon us and with Reading away at the Euro Hockey League in Lille this weekend, East Grinstead and Beeston have a chance to put some pressure on the Sonning Lane side and Surbiton are afforded the chance to close the gap.

NOW: Pensions Hockey LeagueBeeston currently sit top of the pile after winning both games in their double header last weekend. The Bees recorded a 5-2 win on Saturday against Sheffield Hallam and followed that up with a tough 3-2 win over Canterbury the following day. Matt Taylor’s side had seven different scorers chipping in with their eight goals, showing the threat they pose from all over the field. Despite their flying start to the season, Taylor feels they can still be better:

“We played well in parts against Sheffield but unfortunately those parts were still too infrequent. We seemed to lack a real determination to score and conceded two late goals.”  He added: “Against Canterbury, again we played well in parts but I’m still waiting for a clinical performance from us. They defended well and made it difficult for us and again we conceded two late goals to make it a frustrating end to the game.”

Looking ahead, the Bees go up against Hampstead and Westminster who endured a nightmare week as they were thrashed 11-1 by a rampant Reading side. Player-Coach Tom Kavanagh pulled no punches in his assessment of his team’s weekend telling The Top of the D:

“It was a disappointing weekend for Hampstead as we put in a poor performance.  We had a few notable absentees but that is no excuse.  Reading played exceptionally well. They were clinical when they got into our circle and punished us for our mistakes.” He continued: “We never settled in or got into the game and we know we were well below par and the standard we set ourselves. In this league you can’t have an off day and we got well and truly punished for ours.”

Kavanagh’s side couldn’t have asked for a tougher test to try and get back on track, but their coach is keen to get back into action:

“We will re-group this week and bounce back as we have a double header against Beeston and then the Cup. We need to prepare for those fixtures appropriately.”

131006 Wimbledon Reading 18In one of the biggest games of the weekend, Loughborough Students, currently rooted to the foot of the table take on Wimbledon, who are just a point ahead. Both sides tasted defeat last weekend with Wimbledon losing out 5-3 in an entertaining contest with East Grinstead, whilst Loughborough lost 5-0 to an in-form Surbiton. Both sides will be desperate to put some points on the board to try and put pressure on the sides around them and move away from the wrong end of the table.

Sheffield who lost to Beeston last Saturday, picked up a point away at fellow strugglers Cannock on the Sunday but now have the week off. Cannock will travel to Saint Hill to face a free-scoring East Grinstead side who have found the net 29 times in six games.

The Sussex side overcome a stern test from Wimbledon last weekend and Manager Matt Jones told TTOTD:

“We knew Wimbledon would be a tough challenge. They have quality and depth that perhaps you wouldn’t normally associate with a newly promoted side. Their experienced players like Ben Marsden, Ben Hawes and Richard Alexander etc. give them a real jump in both quality and experience.” He adds: “We came out of the blocks slowly and were perhaps not as focused as we should have been. We needed to be more switched on and perhaps the stage in the second half where we went down to ten men actually helped us. The team knew then they needed to knuckle down and perform. Our class came through and we were very grateful in particular to two great goals from Mark Pearn.”

Player-Coach Mark Pearn was pleased with the character his side showed to dig out the result they wanted:

“Wimbledon were always dangerous on the counter and they took advantage of our lack of concentration in the first half to score twice and keep it tied at halftime. We felt we had to close their midfield down quicker, stop them playing through the centre of the pitch and force them to throw more aerials and play to the outside. As soon as we did this and took better care of the ball in the difficult conditions we had more than enough chances to win the match. It showed that as a team we are prepared to scrap for every result and that we are not just a side that only wins by four or five goals.”

Jones expects nothing less than another tough challenge from EG’s opponents this week, Cannock:

“Cannock are a bit in transition. It wasn’t long ago they were the top side that was there or thereabouts every year. They’re still undergoing a rebuilding stage but they have some very talented young players whilst Harry Jawanda and Dave Beckett give them some real class. They’ve had some unfortunate results so far but we still feel they are a serious threat. If we don’t perform, we expect to get punished.”

Pearn too, is keen his side don’t take Cannock lightly and acknowledges the need for the Sussex team to keep improving:

“Obviously this weekend everyone will be expecting us to win comfortably against Cannock, but we are not taking anything for granted as they have some exciting young players who could potentially cause us some problems. We know we are not consistently playing at the level we are aiming for yet, but there are definitely positive signs that the work we have put in over recent months is starting to pay off. Our challenge is still to produce a high quality performance across the 70 minutes so there is plenty for us to be working on going forwards.”

The final game of the weekend is a repeat of last season’s Championship Play-off semi-final as Surbiton visit Polo Farm to go up against Canterbury. The two sides had mixed fortunes last weekend as Todd Williams’ side ran out comfortable winners over Loughborough whilst a late rally was not enough for Canterbury who went down 3-2 to Beeston.

Canterbury Captain Michael Farrer was positive after his side’s efforts against Beeston:

“We played well in periods and had a couple of opportunities but, credit to them; they are champions for a reason. We will take some positives, we competed well and 3-2 is not a disaster.”

For Farrer and his team the game represents a chance not only to earn some much needed points but also to avenge last season’s play-off defeat:

“We certainly have a score to settle against Surbiton. After the disappointment of last year and seeing them a couple of weeks ago, playing in Europe, when it could have been us, hopefully we can win and prove a point.”

NOW: Pensions Men's Hockey League Finals WeekendSurbiton Coach Todd Williams told TTOTD:

“We were pleased to get the win against a young Loughborough team but the game was nowhere near as one-sided as the scoreline suggested. They had plenty of periods of possession and attacking play. Nonetheless, to secure 3 points after a weekend in Europe is critical whatever the score and it gives us momentum as we head into a busy 3 weeks which includes matches against Canterbury, Reading and East Grinstead”

With the league seemingly splitting into a clear top half and bottom half, there is plenty at stake at either end of the table. Whilst there is still plenty of time left in the season, sides will be starting to feel the pressure for different reasons, making every point won absolutely crucial.

As ever, you can see all the results as they come in on the England Hockey website.

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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