The Investec Women’s Premier League is all set to come back this weekend after the winter break. Having had the chance to watch all the teams over the first half of the season, The Top of the D lets you know how they’ve got on so far and what we might expect to happen in the second half of the season. First up, the top five:
P 11 W 9 D 1 L 1 F 28 A 10 GD 18 Pts 28
Top scorer: Nikki Kidd 12 goals.
Last result: won 2-1 vs. University of Birmingham.
It has been a fantastic season so far for Jen Wilson’s side. Top of the league, three points clear of Reading in second and five points clear of Surbiton in third, things could not have gone much better for the Kent side. They have played some excellent hockey and can boast two wins over Reading and a hard fought 2-1 win over Surbiton, their closest challengers.
The secret appears to be a strong defence (they have only conceded ten goals, the second fewest in the division) and the ability to take their chances when they come. Scottish International Nikki Kidd has been a revelation since joining in the summer. Her eye-catching displays have dominated the middle of the pitch and her ability to find the net has proved crucial. Her international teammate Nikki Lloyd has also been excellent. Her pace and trickery as well as her ability to link up with Kidd has seamlessly slotted in with Canterbury’s style. At the back, Captain Grace Balsdon has shown great ability and maturity alongside the colossal Mel Clewlow, whilst goalkeeper Helen Fagg, another summer recruit has settled in nicely in the Premier League. Additionally, the return of Susie Rowe after an impressive indoor season can only help to strengthen an already resolute defence.
Wilson has emphasised throughout the season that whilst their long term aim is the play offs, they are very much a “one game at a time” side. Making sure they prepare meticulously for each game as it comes. They have a tough assignment first up as they host Bowdon Hightown, who beat them in the indoor semi-finals, but then they have a run of tricky but winnable games before their big clash with Surbiton on the 8th of March. The Polo Farm side will hope for more of the same this half of the season and you’d be a fool to write them off from at least getting to the playoffs.
P11 W8 D1 L2 F39 A8 GD31 Pts:25
Top scorer: Alex Danson 12 goals
Last result: Won 8-1 vs. Olton and West Warwicks.
Reading, the reigning play-off champions are ominously sitting in second place at this stage of the season. Although they have suffered two defeats, both to Canterbury, they look odds on to finish in the play-off places once again. Their depth of squad has had to come into play on more than one occasion with the hectic international calendar taking away as many as seven of their squad on international duty at one time or another. The likes of Leah Wilkinson, Becky Halle (5 league goals so far), Emma Thomas and the ever-reliable Sarah Ellis have ensured the absence of their stars has not had an adverse effect on their league position.
Steve Bayer’s side are the league’s top scorers, with 39 goals but they are also the meanest defence with only eight conceded. They have a tough weekend ahead as without their Great Britain contingent they face a double header against a solid Beeston side and third-placed Surbiton. Once again, their squad players will have to come to the fore. Regardless of the outcome this weekend, with a six point cushion to fourth place and a seven point gap to fifth, it is virtually impossible to see Reading not making the end of season playoffs. Once there, they will be a very daunting proposition for any side.
P 11 W 7 D 2 L 2 F 37 A 13 GD 24 Pts 23
Top scorer: Jenna Woolven 7 goals
Last result: Won 3-2 vs. Sutton Coldfield.
Surbiton, like Reading look strong this season, in part due to their international contingent. Georgie Twigg has been in excellent form, finding a goalscoring touch to go with her marauding midfield style whilst Sarah Haycroft, Hollie Webb and Giselle Ansley have all been superb. With Abi Walker, one of the most reliable keepers around behind a strong back four, they have conceded just 13 times. Last year, Surbiton found goals at the other end a little hard to come by: They scored just 39 times (the fourth lowest in the division.) At this point, they already have 37 goals and have been indebted to Jenna Woolven (seven goals) and Sarah Page (five goals) in particular for their change in goalscoring fortunes.
They have suffered two defeats, at the hands of Reading and Canterbury but have put in impressive displays to see off Clifton (2-0), Bowdon Hightown (4-0) and in a ruthless display of finishing they despatched bottom side Olton 12-1. They return to action with a trip to Olton this Saturday before they face Reading on Sunday in a game which will be lacking the Great Britain stars but still not lacking in quality. Surbiton felt a little unlucky to lose out in the play-off semi-finals on shootout like they did last year, but this year, with the additions they made over the summer and the form the side is in, they look equipped to not only qualify for playoffs but to do well once they get there.
P11 W6 D1 L4 F18 A19 GD-1 Pts19
Top scorer: Tina Cullen 6 goals
Last result: Won 1-0 vs. Leicester.
What looked to be a transitional year for Bowdon has thus far gone very nicely indeed. Despite the losses of Kirsty MacKay and Sally Walton, Hightown seem to have blended youth and experience very well to make them a tough team to overcome. Three of their four defeats have come against the teams above, them, Surbiton, Canterbury and Reading but crucially they have seen off fifth placed Leicester twice with well-earned 1-0 wins.
Natalie Wray has backed up Tina Cullen in the goalscoring stakes, bagging five to add to Cullen’s six strikes, meaning over half of Hightown’s goals have come from those two. Amy Tennant in goal looks more and more accomplished with every game and pays testament to the youth development Cullen and her team have been so keen to foster.
They return to the league with a trip to Canterbury this weekend, hoping they can secure three points to further tighten their grip on the fourth playoff place. After that game Bowdon embark on a series of games they would expect to take points from, although each of them is a tough test for its own reason. Their last two games of the season pit them against Surbiton and Reading. They will perhaps be hoping to have their place in the play-offs sewn up by then.
P11 W5 D3 L3 F23 A14 GD9 Pts18
Top scorer: Katie Long and Hannah Fair 5 goals
Last result: Lost 0-1 vs. Bowdon Hightown.
With the retirement of Chris Mayer and then the subsequent resignation of his replacement, it looked like a rocky start to the season for the Pukkas. David Mayer, Chris’ brother came in and steadied the ship. After losing a number of players over the summer it was always going to be tough for Leicester to repeat their former glories and maintain their place as one of the dominant forces in domestic hockey. However, despite the uncertain nature of their early season, Leicester have given themselves an excellent chance of making the end of season playoffs, trailing Bowdon Hightown by just a point. They have played the top three once each, and have tasted defeat just once in those clashes, losing 3-2 to Reading at Sonning Lane. They have still to play Surbiton and Canterbury away from home but they also have games against Sutton Coldfield (this weekend), Beeston and Olton, who are all sides they beat in the first half of the season.
The goals of Katie Long and Hannah Fair will prove crucial to the Pukkas as they aim to overhaul those teams above them and make another appearance in the play-offs. Perhaps of greater encouragement is their defensive strength as only the top three have conceded fewer goals. As the old saying goes, “let none in, only one to win.” Leicester might not be the Leicester of old, but they are still a very good side. They will no doubt push Bowdon all the way in the fight for a place in the play-offs.
Part two of the Investec Women’s Premier League Review will follow this afternoon.