With the NOW: Pensions Men’s Premier League all set to resume this weekend after a winter break, The Top of the D gives you a rundown on how each of the teams fared in the first half of the season and what we might expect for the remaining games. And yes, I know technically the season is over half way, but “Review after eleven games” isn’t a very catchy title. Anyway, here’s part one, featuring the top five.
P:11 W:9 D:1 L:1 F:35 A:21 GD:14 Pts:28
Drew 2-2 vs. Reading.
Beeston started the season in blistering form. They won all of their opening nine games, including consecutive wins over the three teams considered their closest challengers, Reading, East Grinstead and Surbiton. Some dominant displays had some people already handing the Bees the title they raced to last season. However a 3-2 loss to an in-form Wimbledon side and then a 2-2 draw with Reading just before the break has allowed East Grinstead to close the gap to just two points.
Matt Taylor’s squad has plenty of quality with Stephen Lawrence, George Pinner and Adam Dixon all consistently excellent performers. Of course they also have Sam Ward, the league’s top scorer in terrific form. With Ward’s hot streak showing no signs of letting up Beeston are more than a match for anyone. Their early exit from the Maxinutrition Hockey 5s may actually work in their favour as Taylor will have been able to prepare his side for the second half of the season without the distraction of an extended indoor campaign. Their first game back is a huge clash with East Grinstead who are a different proposition to the one Beeston beat 3-1 earlier on in the season. We’ll know more about who might finish in first place once that game has taken place, but regardless of the outcome, you’d expect Beeston to be in the end of season playoffs.
P11 W 8 D 2 L 1 F 51 A 25 GD 26 Pts 26
Won 7-4 vs. Canterbury
Having missed out on the end of season play offs last season East Grinstead underwent something of a rebuilding phase over the summer. With a number of new faces in the squad their greater strength in depth and a new, more continental style has paid huge dividends. Their only defeat came at the hands of Beeston but they have shown their strength with big wins over Canterbury (twice) and Loughborough Students. The side from Saint Hill are the league’s top scorers with 51 goals across the 11 games and the top scorer charts reflect that with three East Grinstead players in the top ten. Mark Pearn and Glenn Kirkham, both now retired from international hockey are in splendid form whilst Ashley Jackson is arguably the best player in the league. The addition of Czech goalkeeper Filip Neusser, over the winter break looks to be a superb signing. The goalkeeper was the star of EG’s indoor campaign and will bring great ability and experience to their outdoor side. As already mentioned, there is little time for the Sussex outfit to settle into the second half of the season as their first game is against Beeston but like their opponents this weekend you would fully expect them to be in the end of season play offs given their form over the first half of the season.
P11 W 7 D 3 L 1 F 41 A 20 GD 21 Pts 24
Drew 2-2 vs. Beeston.
Currently tucked in in 3rd place, four points off leaders Beeston, Reading are well placed to make the end of season play-offs. The Sonning Lane outfit suffered a setback in their second game, losing 4-3 to the Bees but since then they have not lost a match. Reading produced two of the most eye-catching displays of the season with an 11-1 thrashing of Hampstead and Westminster and a 4-4 draw against East Grinstead, a game in which they trailed 3-0, then led 4-3 only to have to settle for a point. Their squad has some excellent depth with some top class international players supplemented by some quality club players. Reading visit Cannock this weekend knowing that a win gives them the chance to take full advantage of any dropped points from the East Grinstead vs Beeston clash. As with the two teams above them, you’d be very surprised not to see them in the end of season play-offs.
P 11 W 6 D 3 L 2 F 35 A 17 GD 18 Pts 21
Won 8-1 vs Sheffield Hallam.
Todd Williams’ side sat second bottom at the half way mark last season and ended up finishing second to qualify for the play-offs. This time out they have made their lives a bit easier, sitting in fourth place after 11 games. They have taken points off East Grinstead, Reading and Wimbledon, their closest challengers for the fourth play-off place but suffered defeats to Beeston and a surprise 5-1 humbling at the hands of Canterbury. Goalkeeper David Kettle has been superb, producing a series of assured displays as part of the division’s meanest defence. With the back four and goalkeeper giving them a solid platform to build from the attacking talents of Chris Grassick, Rob Moore, Matt Daly, James Tindall and goal machine Alan Forsyth make Surbiton a side to be feared. They have a three point gap to make up to overhaul Reading in third place, but after their incredible second half of the season last year they will be confident of repeating the trick. Their ability to hold off the challenge of Wimbledon, who sit two points behind them will be shaped by the first game back as the two sides meet this Sunday.
P11 W 6 D 1 L 4 F 23 A 19 GD 4 Pts 19
Won 2-0 vs. Cannock.
Wimbledon endured a tough start to the season, with just a win and a draw from their opening six games. However a win over Loughborough Students in their sixth sparked a run of five consecutive victories including a win over Beeston, the Bees’ only defeat to date. It took the Wombles a little time to adjust to life in the Premier League but their talented squad is starting to really hit its stride. The experience of Player-Coach Ben Marsden, Richard Alexander, Ben Hawes and Ali Brogdon has really come to the fore whilst the likes of Johnny Kinder, Phil Roper and Tom Millington in goal have adapted and begun to look comfortable at this level. Both Marsden and Alexander have stressed that top six is the target for the newly-promoted side, but a win against Surbiton, who they drew 2-2 with first time out will surely have them aiming higher.
With four of the top five facing each other this coming weekend this is a crucial round of games in the quest to finish in the top four. Whilst there are still plenty of games to go, the margins between each of the teams are so slender that every point is vital.
Part two will follow tomorrow, looking at Canterbury, Hampstead and Westminster, Cannock, Loughborough Students and Sheffield Hallam.