Just like in the men’s premier league, the race for the playoffs is hotting up as Leicester, Bowdon and Clifton are still jockeying for the fourth playoff place whilst Reading, Canterbury and Surbiton are fighting it out for the top three slots and who will play who come the end of season.
Canterbury roared back to the top of the league after just one week off the summit picking up a crucial 2-0 win away at Sutton Coldfield. Without the creative talents of Nikki Lloyd and Nikki Kidd and the defensive ability of Grace Balsdon it was left to Kim Young and former Great Britain defender Mel Clewlow to fire in the goals to take the three points. Canterbury Player-Coach Jen Wilson told The Top of the D:
“The girls were 100% professional against Sutton. We created a lot of chances and had we been a bit more clinical we could have scored more, but overall, we were very happy with the win. Our key players have clear roles in the team and are very important to us, so obviously it’s hard when they’re missing. However our other players really took their opportunities and did brilliantly. It’s great to get your full squad back but some of the girls have really impressed me in the way they’ve stepped up.”
Canterbury face Beeston this weekend. Of course the Bees halted the Kent side’s unbeaten streak in the first half of the season with a 3-1 win at Highfields. Wilson, as she has been all season is keen to stress that Canterbury must get the job done each week rather than looking towards the play offs:
“Every game is tough in this league and we have some massive tests ahead. However, there is no point focusing on anything other than the task at hand. If you don’t do your job this week, then the next week is irrelevant. We’re enjoying every game and making sure we’re fully prepared and we’ll see where that leaves us at the end of the season.”
The Bees currently sit seventh in the league with a four point cushion over University of Birmingham in eighth. They lost 1-0 to Bowdon Hightown last week but with the win over the leaders from earlier on in the season they will go into the game with confidence.
Surbiton, who Canterbury replaced at the top of the league lost out to Leicester last week. Goals from Vanessa Hawkins and Katie Long did the trick as the Pukkas hung onto fourth place for another week. Surbiton would have played Reading this week but due to the latter’s European commitments the Sugden Road side have the week off. Leicester continue their fight to hang on to a playoff place with a home clash against Clifton, themselves still harbouring playoff ambitions.
Clifton swept aside bottom side Olton and West Warwicks with Els Mansell notching her eighth goal of the season. Steve Rixon’s side can leapfrog Leicester with a win against the Pukkas on Saturday. There is little to choose between the sides that drew 2-2 earlier on in the season so expect this one to be decided by the odd goal, with the winners taking another step towards the play-offs.
There is a huge game at the foot of the table, too. Rock bottom Olton will be all but down if they lose out to Sutton Coldfield. Don Vinson’s side on the other hand will be right back in the race to overhaul University of Birmingham to escape the relegation playoffs with a win. If results go their way, the Pinks will be behind Birmingham only on goal difference with the final day clash between the two sides looking even more important with every week that passes.
Birmingham failed to pull away from Sutton after yet another narrow defeat, this time to Reading. Reading Coach Steve Bayer was full of praise for Phil Gooderham’s team, however:
“They have lost by one goal on eight occasions, so we knew we were in for a test. In the first half they seemed to give us a lot of space but second half they closed that down and had a really good go at us. They shouldn’t be where they are in the league, they are much better than their position suggests. Maybe it’s because they are young and haven’t learned how to close a game out yet, perhaps our experience told, but they are far more talented than you would think just looking at the table.”
Birmingham travel to Bowdon Hightown this week for what promises to be another close fought game, Hightown lost the first meeting 4-0 but this one won’t be as one sided. Hightown are still in the hunt for a playoff place after another Tina Cullen goal gave them a 1-0 win over Beeston. Cullen told The Top of the D:
“We were made up to win a very tight game. Although we had a lot of very good chances we struggled to take them and were pleased to eventually put one away. Beeston’s goalkeeper had a blinder and I thought we were never going to score. The win keeps us in contention for the play offs but we have a tough home game next week as we lost heavily in the away fixture.”
With Cullen’s side just a point behind Leicester and Clifton just a point behind them, Hightown will be keen to ensure they capitalise on the Pukkas’ clash with the side from the west. One thing is for sure, the fourth playoff place will go right down to the wire.
With 1st place and European qualification still up for grabs as well as the relegation playoffs still to be decided almost all the games have their own significance this weekend.
As always you can find the results on the England Hockey Website.