The NOW: Pensions Men’s Premier League is all set to resume this weekend. With the table seemingly split into three sections there are a number of intriguing challenges and battles developing right the way across the division. The Top of the D has already looked at the top five teams here, now it is the turn of those sides placed sixth to tenth.
Top Scorer: Liam Foster 9 goals.
Last result: Lost 4-7 vs. East Grinstead.
Canterbury are one of the league’s great enigmas: Superb one week (like their 5-1 win over playoff chasing Surbiton) and then some way off their best another (like the 6-4 defeat to Cannock, where they were 4-0 down after 35 minutes.) Their inconsistency has meant they have fallen into a sort of halfway house in the league. Not quite up with the top five, but clear of the bottom three. They have plenty of quality in their side: Canadian Goalkeeper Antoni Kindler has looked impressive in his first season at the club, Kwan Browne is still a class act, Mickel Pierre has some incredible skills, Liam Foster is one of the top scorers in the league and Captain Michael Farrer is a wholehearted and excellent competitor. It is therefore a bit of a mystery why they have struggled at times.
Their run to the final of the indoor competition should give them plenty of confidence which they will hope to take into the outdoor season. As Surbiton showed last season, there is no reason why a team who are seemingly out of contention at the break cannot make a late charge for the playoffs. Canterbury start their second half of the season away at struggling Loughborough Students this Sunday. They beat the Students 4-1 earlier on in the season and will be hoping for a similar result to kick-start a drive towards the five teams above them. If they continue their form from the first half of the season they won’t be in relegation trouble but they will see it is a disappointing year.
Hampstead & Westminster
P 11 W 4 D 0 L 7 F 19 A 37 GD -18 Pts 12
Lost 1-2 vs. Loughborough Students.
Hampstead and Westminster are in a very similar situation to Canterbury. Consistency seems to have been hard to come by for Tom Kavanagh’s side. Former Hampstead Coach Todd Williams, now in charge at Surbiton has said that Hampstead’s unpredictability makes them one of the most dangerous sides in the league but I am sure they would trade that for a more “routine” run of form. Losing Great Britain defender Richard Smith to long term injury has not helped the side from Paddington Rec but it is really goals at the other end they have found a problem. Only the bottom two have scored fewer than Hampstead, whilst the 11-1 defeat at the hands of Reading did very little to help their goals against column. There are positives to take for Kavanagh’s team: Goalkeeper Ian Scanlon has been magnificent every time I have seen them play this season and Paddington Rec is a difficult place to go as shown by their home results. Three of their four wins have come there and they almost snatched a point against East Grinstead, losing narrowly, 3-2. They will be hopeful they can collect nine points from their remaining three games at home but will also be anxious to improve their away form so that they can climb up the table rather than just staying where they are.
P11 W 2 D 1 L 8 F 19 A 32 GD -13 Pts 7
Lost 0-2 vs. Wimbledon
Cannock are undergoing something of a transition at the moment. A young squad with an average age of around 23 they have at times found life tough in the Premier League. They lost the first time out against fellow strugglers Loughborough Students but crucially picked up a win in the return fixture between the two sides. They also picked up a win over Canterbury in an entertaining match that finished 6-4.
David Beckett has shown plenty of ability and is the side’s top scorer with five goals; however despite his efforts, goals have been a problem for Cannock who have only netted 19 times in their 11 games. Their main focus will be to finish top of the mini-league that seems to have developed between them, Loughborough and Sheffield Hallam. If they can pick up some “bonus” points against Canterbury or Hampstead, or even one of the top four then they will be looking over their shoulders a lot less. They have a daunting looking run in as their last three fixtures are against East Grinstead, Surbiton and Beeston. With Reading to face this weekend the three games against Canterbury, Hampstead and Sheffield take on an even greater significance. Nervous times at Chase Park.
Chris Griffiths 5 goals
Won 2-1 vs. Hampstead & Westminster
Loughborough have been hit hard by the absence of their U21 International contingent, making do without several key players at key times during the season. They picked up a win over Cannock in their opening game but then had to wait until the last game before the break for their next three points, a hard-earned 2-1 win over Hampstead and Westminster. With Cannock and Sheffield Hallam struggling too that second win has handed the Students a lifeline in their quest to avoid the bottom two. They are now breathing down the necks of Cannock and have a two point cushion over bottom side Sheffield. They face Canterbury this weekend but their biggest game of this half of the season is the week after when they travel to Abbeydale to take on Hallam. With a run in of East Grinstead, Surbiton, Wimbledon, Beeston and Reading as their last five games, Loughborough, like their relegation rivals will be relying on either picking up unexpected points against one of the big guns or hoping other teams can do them a favour. If they do finish in ninth place they at least have the lifeline offered to them by the relegation playoffs, but they would obviously prefer to avoid that altogether.
P 11 W 1 D 1 L 9 F 13 A 38 GD -25 Pts 4
Gareth Furlong 4 goals.
Lost 1-8 vs Surbiton.
Having lost top scorer Phil Roper to Wimbledon over the summer Hallam were always going to find it tough in the top flight. Roper was responsible for 27 league goals the season before and a further five in the promotion play offs. Not an easy figure to lose whoever you are. Hallam have played some good hockey and been competitive in most of their fixtures. The 8-1 loss to Surbiton was tough on them as they lead from the 6th minute until just before half time, when they conceded two quick goals before being blown away in the second half. It seems as well as a lack of goals, inexperience and naivety have been their downfall, which is hardly a surprise as for most of their young side; this is their first time at this level.
It is not a lost cause by any stretch of the imagination, however. The form of Scottish Goalkeeper Jamie Cachia is a source of great optimism and he will surely be crucial in the run-in. Hallam beat Loughborough earlier on in the season and still have them to face on the 16th of February. A win there and suddenly their clash with Cannock, who they drew 2-2 with in October, becomes a massive game. Depending on other results, six points from those two crucial games could conceivably be enough for Vicky Joel’s side. As the Coach said before Christmas, they need to win the mini-league of the bottom three and see where they are after that. Of course a point or even three against Hampstead and Westminster this weekend wouldn’t go amiss either.
With the league extremely close at both ends of the table there are still many issues to be resolved and surely many twists and turns are still to come. Keep an eye on all the results and developments by visiting the England Hockey Website