With the season resuming after the winter break last weekend there were some important results for sides at the top of the table whilst the pressure at the bottom continues to mount for those in danger of slipping through the trap door and into one of the conferences.
Probably the most notable mover of the weekend was Surbiton who rocketed to the top of the league with wins over Olton and West Warwicks (4-0) and notably a 1-0 win on Sunday over fellow title challengers Reading. Sarah Page enjoyed a great weekend in front of goal, moving onto eight for the season by netting twice on Saturday before bagging the winner against Reading. Brett Garrard’s side have another big game this weekend as they welcome Leicester to Sugden Road. The Pukkas moved into the fourth playoff spot at the expense of Bowdon Hightown after a hard-earned win in a local derby over Sutton Coldfield. Jess Hickman and Hannah Fair came up with the goods to give David Mayer’s team a boost ahead of a tough run of games.
Previous leaders Canterbury endured a frustrating afternoon as they were shut out by a well-organised Bowdon Hightown, having to settle for a 0-0 draw. Player-Coach Jen Wilson was disappointed with her side’s inability to break down the visitors, telling The Top of the D: “We created a few chances but overall it was pretty even. We weren’t at our best first half but in the second half we were better. Their keeper made two or three very good saves to keep them in it. I’m pleased with the improvement between first and second half but overall a little disappointed to not be at our best and not to pick up the points.” she added: “We could think of a thousand excuses why we weren’t at our best I’m sure, but it’s not all doom and gloom. When you come up against a quality side like Bowdon they are always going to be capable of making life very difficult for you and that’s what they did.”
Canterbury’s stand-in captain Mel Clewlow remained optimistic, despite her side dropping points at home for the first time this season:
“You always use the clichés which I’m sure the press are getting fed up with us for, but we try to take it one game at a time. I’d love to get in the playoffs and I’d love to win the league, obviously. It’s something I’ve never managed in my time here so it’d be great to do it. It’s perhaps two points dropped today but if we can get a good win against Sutton Coldfield next week we’ll be in a much better position.”
As Clewlow mentioned, the Kent side now go up against a Sutton Coldfield side fighting to maintain their top flight status. Sutton lost a close game against Leicester last week but with the gap to University of Birmingham remaining the same they will be hopeful of picking up some points from the league leaders to aid their cause.
Clifton stayed in the hunt for the playoffs with a 1-0 win over a testing University of Birmingham side. Steve Rixon’s team are within three points of Leicester in fourth and with both Leicester and Bowdon to play after they have dealt with Olton and West Warwicks this weekend Clifton have their fate in their own hands. Olton face the Best of the West off the back of another defeat, their 13th of the season, this time at the hands of Surbiton.
Bowdon, in contrast to their opponents last week were happy to have come away from Canterbury with a point. Captain Fay Nash told The Top of the D: “We came here knowing that is was going to be a tough game but I think we performed one of the best we have this season. Canterbury are a quality side but I think we matched them and played some quality hockey. We’re happy with a point.” She added “The hard bit is we’ve had very little preparation with the indoor finals being so late this year, the preparation hasn’t been brilliant but it didn’t show. We were quality and played some top class hockey at times.”
With Beeston, who lost out to Reading last weekend looming large on the horizon, Player-Coach Tina Cullen was in no doubt as to the size of the task her side faces in the coming weeks:
“Beeston is a big game. We’ve got a hard run in including Reading away, Clifton away and of course Beeston away first, so we know it’s going to be tough. We’re trying to make sure we prepare properly for each game and hopefully the results will take care of themselves. We were delighted to be fourth before Christmas and if we can stay there that’ll be great. We’ve made a good start and that can only give us confidence.”
That just leaves the clash between University of Birmingham and Reading. Phil Gooderham’s side are still looking over their shoulders as they have yet to shake off the challenge of Sutton Coldfield, who trail the Students by three points. Gooderham’s team came up just short against Clifton, losing 1-0, their seventh defeat by a single goal this season. They have competed well against every side, and their goal difference (currently zero, compared with Sutton’s -17) could yet be their saving grace.
Reading Coach Steve Bayer goes into the game without a full strength side and with one eye on their upcoming European Indoor competition but he made no excuses after their weekend’s exertions:
“It was a bit of a mixed weekend for us. Saturday against Beeston was a very good result. It wasn’t champagne hockey but I was pleased with the way the girls ground it out to get the win. We weren’t clinical enough on Sunday. Surbiton took one of their chances and we didn’t. It could easily have gone the other way but it just wasn’t our day. We have to give credit to them.” Characteristically, Bayer remains calm about his side’s chances, telling TTOTD: “Other results went our way which helps. The focus is to make the play-offs and see what happens then. We’ll be prepared if we get that far so we won’t fear anyone. We’re looking forward to another tough game this weekend and then we’ll give the Euros a good go and see where we are afterwards.”
With playoff places still up for grabs and with the relegation play-off place far from decided, there are some hugely important clashes coming up right the way through the league. Every point gained is crucial at this stage as the league moves into an exciting final phase.
You can keep up to date with all the results by visiting the England Hockey Website.