The NOW: Pensions Men’s Premier League was back with a bang as 32 goals were scored across four games in the first weekend back after the winter break.
The most eye catching of some spectacular results was the 5-4 win by Beeston over title rivals East Grinstead. With the Bees dropping points with a draw and loss just before Christmas the Sussex Side had a chance put some pressure on the league leaders with a win. However, with help from the customary Sam Ward strike and a brace from Chris Proctor Beeston extended their lead at the top to four points. Coach Matt Taylor told The Top of the D:
“Neither side broke into full stride during the game. It was a typical re-start game after a long break, but at least the crowd were kept happy!”
Beeston face a stern examination of their title credentials once again this week as they visit playoff chasing Surbiton. Todd Williams’ team will be aiming to re-assert their grip on fourth place after they were indebted to a Matt Daly hat-trick and a last gasp equaliser from Michael Watt to give them a 4-4 draw against the division’s form side Wimbledon. With the Wombles just two points behind the Sugden Road outfit, they know they can ill afford any slip ups in their run in, making this game a massive one for both sides involved.
East Grinstead are not in league action this week as they are playing in and hosting the European Indoor Championships. Manager Matt Jones offered a frank assessment of their efforts against the league leaders:
“We weren’t as sharp at either end of the pitch as we would have liked but that’s to be expected given the overlap between indoor and outdoor seasons. Having to switch from indoor to outdoor and then back means all preparation is compromised and that showed at the weekend.” He added “We’d have found it tough against any team as the Premier League is of a good quality this season, however playing a side like Beeston did make it that bit harder. We created chances but didn’t take them and we gave away some soft goals, which against a team like them you simply can’t do, they don’t need any help!”
Grinstead’s would-be opponents Hampstead and Westminster have their second week off in a row after their game against Sheffield Hallam fell to the weather.
Hallam may be grateful of the extra week’s rest as they go into arguably their most important game of the season to date, a relegation six-pointer against Loughborough Students. Last week, the Students were involved in a remarkable game with Canterbury that featured five goals in the last ten minutes and finished up 4-4. Loughborough are now on seven points, level with Cannock and three ahead of Hallam. A win is a must for either side, with Loughborough hoping to pull out of the relegation play-off places, whilst Hallam know they cannot afford to get cut adrift at the bottom.
Cannock who put up a brave showing against Reading last week, losing 4-3 will be anxious to seize upon dropped points in the bottom-of-the-table-clash and put some daylight between themselves and the dreaded drop zone. They visit Canterbury, a side they beat earlier on in the season 6-4. Canterbury, as already mentioned, found the net four times last weekend, only to be pegged back by Loughborough Students in an extraordinary game. Consistency still seems to elude the Polo Farm side, but Cannock will have to be mindful of that as the “good” Canterbury are capable of beating anyone if they turn up on the day!
That just leaves the mouth-watering clash between Reading and Wimbledon at Sonning Lane. As mentioned already, the sides had contrasting fortunes last week, Wimbledon were denied an important win by a last minute equaliser from Surbiton whilst Reading saw off a stubborn Cannock side, 4-3. Wimbledon have a great chance to go into the fourth play-off place. If Beeston can do them a favour and beat Surbiton, a win catapults the Wombles into the playoff places. Reading sit second and have the chance to put some pressure on East Grinstead by putting points on the board. Coach Charlie Seccombe told The Top of the D:
“We’re really pleased to get three points against Cannock. It was a very tough and hard fought game as the score line suggests. We struggled to find our outdoor form after the indoor season but we managed to get a win which was very pleasing at this stage, especially after the way other results went.” Looking ahead to this weekend, Seccombe added: “Wimbledon are currently one of the form teams in the league and are coming off a good result against Surbiton last week. We know it’ll be a really stern test and that it’ll be an exciting game but hopefully we’ll be ready. If we play well, fingers crossed we can get the result we need.”
With two massive games at the top of the table and another huge clash between the bottom two, this weekend could prove to be a turning point or a defining moment in more than one team’s season. As always you can keep an eye on the results on the England Hockey Website.