The final round of Investec Women’s Premier League games before the Christmas break is upon us. Canterbury are now the clear leaders after last week’s 1-0 win over closest rivals Reading but the league is still fiercely contested and very close as the indoor season beckons.
A penalty corner strike from Mel Clewlow made the difference between the top two sides and allowed Canterbury to move three points clear in first place. As you’d expect, Player-Coach Jen Wilson was thrilled with her team’s efforts:
“We’re delighted with the win today. Not many teams can say they’ve beaten Reading twice in a season. We’re aware we haven’t played them at full strength but they have plenty of depth and plenty of players who were keen to show what they can do, so we knew it would be a battle, which is exactly what it was.”
Captain Grace Balsdon, who once again excelled in Canterbury’s back four echoed her coach’s sentiments, telling The Top of the D:
“Defence has been the key for us this season. We’ve shown on a number of occasions that sides will find it hard to score against us, today was another example of that. We defended very well, especially in the last ten minutes when they were pushing for an equaliser.” She added: “We’re absolutely delighted to get the three points. There’ll be people who will say we beat a weaker Reading side but anyone who actually watched the game will have seen how good they are even without the international players. We ground it out today and were very pleased with the outcome.”
This week the league leaders travel to University of Birmingham who they beat 1-0 earlier on in the season. Wilson knows they are in for a tough test:
“They are a young side who have had more time together than when we first played them so they’ll be a lot more organised this time around. We’re expecting a difficult game and now we’re top of the table it can make each week even harder as teams will be giving a bit extra to try and beat us.”
Birmingham will be hoping to recover from a close fought 1-0 loss to Leicester last week. Phil Gooderham’s side currently sit eighth, three points above Sutton Coldfield and three behind Beeston.
One of the stand out games of this week pits Leicester, now in fourth place after that win over Birmingham against fifth-placed Bowdon Hightown. Leicester coach David Mayer told The Top of the D he was “very happy with the win over Birmingham after a very tough and competitive game against a good side.” he also added that “Bowdon played very well at Leicester and we need to be at our best to get a result this time.” As Mayer has alluded to, in the first meeting of the two sides earlier in the season Bowdon ran out 1-0 winners, this game will be every bit as tight. Tina Cullen’s side are within striking distance of the Pukkas in the table as the two teams are vying for the fourth play off place. Although Hightown were victorious over bottom side Olton and West Warwicks last week Cullen knows there is room for improvement:
“We were a bit disappointed with our game on Saturday. We were very lacklustre in the first half and didn’t play with any intensity. We picked ourselves up in second half and performed much better. Olton played very well and worked hard throughout the game, creating several chances. On to Leicester this Saturday where we hope to improve.”
Clifton, will be keen to take advantage of one of Leicester or Bowdon dropping points as they seek to claw their way back into the playoff picture with a win over Beeston. The Bees lost out last week to Sutton Coldfield by three goals to nil, leaving them back in seventh place whilst Clifton went down to two late goals against Surbiton. The two sides played out a close battle earlier on in the season with Steve Rixon’s team winning 1-0. This game promises to be just as close as the first.
Surbiton, currently on 20 points in third place left it late last week as goals in the 63rd and 66th minutes from Jenna Woolven and Sarah Page overcame Clifton. Brett Garrard’s side are in good shape to secure a playoff place and will be aiming to keep the pressure on Reading and Canterbury in the top two places. The Sugden Road outfit will this week play host to Sutton Coldfield. Don Vinson’s team are down in ninth place but picked up their second win of the season last week with a 3-0 defeat of Beeston. Vinson told The Top of the D:
“Saturday’s result against Beeston was a step in the right direction, putting right the first game of the season. We’re better than our league position suggests; we won’t finish ninth. We have a lot of work to do to catch some of the sides above us, but we’re confident we have the ability and the spirit to get out of trouble.” he continued: “We’ve had a difficult first half of the season. Results have been tough to take and we’re disappointed to find ourselves in the relegation play-off zone. We haven’t really been able to show our true potential yet. Importantly we’ve now resolved some of our availability and injury problems.”
That just leaves the clash between Reading and Olton and West Warwicks. Bottom side Olton are still searching for their first points after another defeat against Bowdon Hightown. They have lost all ten games so far, scoring just six times and conceding 73 goals in the process. The first meeting between the sides yielded a 12-0 win for Reading and you’d have to say, despite their six international absentees Steve Bayer’s side should have no trouble sweeping Olton aside. Despite the big win in the first encounter Reading Captain Emma Thomas is not taking their opponents lightly:
“Every game is a big game, regardless of who you’re playing. I think it’d be easy to look at us beating Olton 12-0 earlier on in the season and take our foot off the gas. We can’t afford to do that. We’ll take them as seriously as we would every other team in the league. We’ll work hard in training and ensure we’re properly prepared. The beauty of sport is that any team can beat any other on a given day so we’ll be sure to leave the pitch with no regrets and hopefully go into Christmas with a positive result.”
With the indoor season on the horizon, each team will be keen to end this part of the outdoor campaign on a high, ready to resume in February. As always, you can find out all the results on the England Hockey website.