There was plenty of excitement last week at both ends of the table as some crucial clashes brought out some intriguing results. The NOW: Pensions Men’s Premier League is still as tight as it could be with three sides locked together at the bottom and five sides fighting tooth and nail for the play off slots.
Leaders Beeston missed the chance to extend their lead at the top of the table as they went down 3-2 away at Surbiton. The Bees fell behind before the break as goals from Michael Watt and a brace from Matt Daly did the damage. Despite the setback, Matt Taylor’s side put in a much better second half display and could easily have snatched a point had things gone their way. Taylor told The Top of the D:
“A couple of lapses in concentration in the first half cost us. You certainly don’t want to be facing a 3-0 deficit at half time against a team like Surbiton; we left ourselves a lot to do.” he added: “We knew man for man we’re as good as they are, so we felt we could win the second half but we didn’t manage to do it by a big enough margin.”
With Reading losing and East Grinstead not in action it was something of a missed opportunity for Taylor’s Men, although the coach was upbeat despite the disappointment:
“We’re still full of confidence going into the upcoming games. Before today we were top by four points and we’re still top even after losing. We’ve set out to win the league and we still want to do that. We approach every game as though it’s a playoff game and I’m confident our squad is good enough to get the job done.”
This week the Bees play host to Sheffield Hallam who will be in high spirits after picking up a massive three points with a win over fellow strugglers Loughborough Students. David Goodfield’s strike four minutes from time gave them a 4-3 victory and dragged Hallam level on points with Loughborough and Cannock at the foot of the table. Hallam also have their game in hand this Saturday against Hampstead and Westminster where a win could see Vicky Joel’s side out of the relegation spots and up to the dizzy heights of eighth. Hampstead have a big role to play in the relegation battle this weekend: In addition to their Saturday game with Hallam they travel to Cannock on Sunday. Tom Kavanagh’s side are yet to play this half of the season but will doubtless be very keen to repeat the 3-2 home win they picked up against the Nockers earlier this season. Loughborough, the third of the strugglers will have to pick themselves up after their defeat to Sheffield but they face a difficult test as they go up against an East Grinstead side who hammered them 8-1 in the first half of the season.
Canterbury kept alive their slim play-off hopes with a hard-fought 6-5 win over Cannock. Having lost 6-4 to the same opponents earlier this season the Polo Farm side exacted revenge and plunged Cannock right into the relegation mire. Captain Michael Farrer told The Top of the D:
“Having been disappointed with the outcome against Loughborough we were keen to put things right against Cannock, it was an important game for both sides. We got caught on the break for Cannock’s first goal but for the rest of the half had their defence under a lot of pressure and should have gone into the break with a lead.” He added: “Fortunately, we continued where we left off in the second half and managed to convert some of our chances to build a comfortable lead. Credit to Cannock they didn’t go down without a fight, but we were disappointed to let them back in the game and hopefully we can maintain concentration for the full 70 minutes this weekend.”
With form side Wimbledon the next assignment on the horizon for Canterbury, Farrer is all too aware of the need for his team to produce their best and try to get something positive from the final games:
“We know that our playoffs hopes are almost over but if we remain unbeaten in these last games and those ahead of us slip up there’s still an outside chance we could make the top four. There’s no real pressure on us now so we’re just looking to enjoy each game and play some entertaining hockey, starting with Wimbledon this weekend.” He continued “On paper Wimbledon are a top four side and now that they seem to have gelled their recent results show just that. We’re expecting another difficult game. We beat them at Polo Farm in the first half of the season, so we’ll take confidence from that game that if we’re on our best form we’re up to the challenge.”
Wimbledon continued their fantastic run with a 2-1 win over Reading, keeping the pressure firmly on Surbiton who currently sit fourth.
Goals from Phil Ball and Phil Roper secured the three points, to the delight of Player-Coach Ben Marsden:
“We scored early and put together some good attacking play. We moved the ball well in the 1st half and took the game to them. The second goal really sealed an excellent first period for us. The second half wasn’t pretty at times but we did what we needed to do.” The former Great Britain defender also told The Top of the D: “We’re on a good unbeaten run and the team spirit is excellent, that really showed on Sunday. Top four or even top five is still a dream result for us this season. It’s great to be looking up and not down as we now have a buffer between us and the lower teams but most of all we’re pleased with how we’re playing and we want to keep this run going and see where we can finish.”
With Wimbledon coming into form at the crucial time in the season, a win this weekend against Canterbury could put them right in the play-off picture. Marsden is confident but not taking anything for granted:
“Canterbury are well organised and play to their strengths. They are capable of beating anyone on their day and of course they beat us earlier in the season but we’re a very different side to that now. There are no easy games in the premier league but we are in the right mind-set and we are confident of getting the right results.”
That just leaves the clash of second and fourth as Reading play host to Surbiton. Reading will be looking to bounce back from their narrow defeat by Wimbledon last week in front of their usual partisan home crowd. Coach Charlie Seccombe was understandably frustrated at his side’s defeat:
“With Beeston losing out to Surbiton it does feel like a missed opportunity. It’s bad enough to lose a game but when you know you’d have closed the gap to a point if we’d done what we needed to that makes it even worse.” However, in characteristic style, Seccombe was not too concerned, telling The Top of the D:
“The defeat won’t impact our confidence and belief. We have a very talented squad and regardless of the game and the situation we go in believing we can get a result. It didn’t quite happen for us this time but it won’t have a negative effect on us.” he adds “Surbiton this week will be a tough game. They’ll be confident after beating Beeston but coming to us is a different game entirely. We’ll prepare as thoroughly as always and we’ll hope for a better performance and the right result.”
As Seccombe mentions, Surbiton will be brimming with confidence, as well as looking, slightly nervously, over their shoulders at Wimbledon. Todd Williams, the Sugden Road team’s Coach told me after the win over Beeston:
“We conceded four against Wimbledon last week so we wanted a better defensive effort this week which we got. Not conceding when we had two fewer players than them was huge. We made some bad decisions to get into that situation but we worked very hard to make sure it didn’t have an impact. I was concerned it might have taken a lot out of us but if anything, it gave us confidence because we defended so well during that period. The first half lead gave us a solid platform to build on and we’re pleased to get the three points.”
When pressed about the number of tough games in a row his side has had to face, Williams was philosophical, saying:
“You have to beat the best teams and you need to keep doing it. If we get to the playoffs we’ll need to do it again and again. We drew with Reading and EG and we got a win today, so we need to keep looking forwards and taking it one game at a time, you know, the usual clichés!”
With the playoff slots still undecided and the relegation places still very much in the balance, the NOW: Pensions Men’s Premier League is building nicely to a thrilling conclusion. This weekend’s games will have plenty of bearing on the outcome.