After a week’s break for most of the sides due to the Futures Cup the NOW: Pensions Men’s Premier League is back with a bang this Sunday. As we approach the half way stage of the season the pick of the games is undoubtedly the clash between Reading and East Grinstead at Sonning Lane.
The teams are separated by just two points, in second and third place and have lost just once each this campaign (both to leaders Beeston.) They have scored 61 goals between them, so you wouldn’t expect a 0-0 draw. Reading were in action last weekend, taking a point from Surbiton in a game re-arranged due to Charlie Seccombe’s team’s EHL commitments. East Grinstead come into the game in fine form, their 4-2 win over Cannock was their fourth win in a row. Manager Matt Jones reflected on the win, telling The Top of the D:
“We started strongly and could’ve easily been in front early on, but they came back hard and matched us. We took our chances when they got tired and so we were very pleased to secure the three points.”
Player-Coach Mark Pearn is pleased with the progress his side is making, but as always, is keen to see improvements:
“We were consistently better across the 70 minutes against Cannock and it was really pleasing to see some of the areas we’ve been focusing on in training starting to show in games. A combination of an excellent performance by their keeper and not quite being at our best in front of goal meant that the score line was close until the end.”
Pearn, who won a European Cup during his time at Reading, is looking forward to coming up against his old club:
“Obviously they are a team and a club that I know well. We regularly have exciting and high scoring matches with them. They’ve had a busy couple of weeks with the EHL and playing last weekend, so we know we are going to have start fast and get up to their level. It will give us a clear mark as to where we currently are this season.”
Continuing the old boys theme, Sunday will also see Reading’s Darren Cheesman line up against his former teammates, Jones knows the Great Britain star well from his time at Sonning Lane:
“It’s nice to come up against a former EG player like Darren. He’s very talented and brings something different to every team he plays in. We know him and his game, but with Cheesman that doesn’t always mean you can stop him!” He added: “We know who to watch out for on their side but they are just as dangerous as a unit as they are as individuals. Essentially it will boil down to who makes the fewest mistakes and who is the most clinical in front of goal.”
Beeston remain the team to catch at the top of the league. The Nottinghamshire outfit have won every game this term and in 11-goal Sam Ward, they have the division’s most in-form striker. Ward nabbed a hat-trick last time out as Matt Taylor’s team swept aside Hampstead and Westminster in an entertaining 6-3 win. The Bees play host to bottom side Loughborough Students who find themselves in deep trouble. The Students haven’t won since the opening day and after their narrow defeat to Wimbledon are in danger of being cut adrift at the bottom.
Wimbledon, who notched up their second win of the season against Loughborough, will be keen to build some momentum as they host Hampstead and Westminster. A win for the Wombles would allow them to leapfrog their opponents in the table; however Hampstead, who have had a mixed run of form lately, will know a win will get their season back on track and help them push towards the top four.
Already in the top four are Surbiton, who could capitalise on any dropped points from the Reading-East Grinstead clash with a win against third-bottom Cannock. Since they secured qualification for the next round of the EHL Todd Williams’ side have hit a patchy run of form, losing 5-1 to Canterbury two weeks ago before snatching a 1-1 draw from Reading last week. Williams told TTOTD:
“We did well against an in-form Reading last week and we are very keen to get back to winning ways after that draw and after being soundly beaten at Canterbury. Cannock will no doubt be looking to repeat their Cup win against us from a couple of weeks ago but we should be at close to full strength this time. We certainly won’t be underestimating them and will need to be much better in our attacking third than we have been to get the three points.”
Cannock, who have just one win this season, need to put some points on the board to try and move away from the wrong end of the table. At present they sit outside the relegation play-off place by goal difference, a win against Surbiton will put the pressure on the sides around them.
That just leaves the game between Canterbury and Sheffield Hallam. Hallam, like Cannock and Loughborough find themselves at the bottom end of the division. Despite earning praise for a series of impressive displays they have found goals hard to come by so far, netting just eight times in seven games- the joint lowest in the division. Vicky Joel’s side need to pick up some points, and soon, to ensure they remain in touch with the sides above them. They face an uphill task against a Canterbury side buoyed by their 5-1 win over Surbiton. Captain Michael Farrer fully understood the significance of that game:
“It was important to get a win against Surbiton and to do so in emphatic fashion was obviously a bonus. Having started poorly in previous weeks it was important for us to seize the initiative and after going two goals up in the first ten minutes we never really looked back. It’s taken a little longer than we had hoped to find our rhythm but we’ve now set a benchmark for ourselves in terms of the kind of performance we want to produce week in, week out.”
Polo Farm was something of a fortress for the Kent side last season and after a week off, Farrer’s team are relishing another home game, despite the challenge Hallam will surely present:
“We are looking forward to getting back on the pitch against Sheffield. They’re a side we don’t know too much about but looking at their squad they have a lot of junior internationals and all their games so far have been quite tight so I’m expecting a tough match.” The Canterbury Skipper adds: “In terms of preparation we’ll be looking to improve in the areas where we came up short against Surbiton and if we apply ourselves in the right manner that should be enough to see us through.”
With four games to go before the break for the indoor season, every team is trying to finish strongly before Christmas. The league has started to take shape, but as Surbiton proved last season, a win or a draw at the right time can kick start a run of results and completely change the look of the standings. Can Sheffield, Cannock, or Loughborough start such a run this weekend? Can anyone stop Beeston? As always, log on to England Hockey’s website on Sunday and find out!