With pretty much every team in the league still having something to play for there is no let-up in the pressure or the drama in each and every one of the games in the Investec Women’s Premier League. With just four games to go, teams are still jockeying for places at the top of the league whilst the relegation play off place is still in the balance.
Canterbury maintained their lead at the top of the table with a 1-0 win over Beeston. Scotland Star Nikki Lloyd popped up with the winner, allowing Canterbury to exact revenge on the Bees for their defeat earlier on in the season, and more importantly maintain their place at the top of the table.
“We’d done a lot of tactical preparation in the week before the game. We worked hard to put right the things we did wrong when we played them last time.” Said Jen Wilson, Canterbury’s Player-Coach. “The team were very clear in what was expected of them and I was really happy with how they carried out the instructions. We could’ve won by more, we had a goal disallowed and hit the post twice so 1-0 perhaps doesn’t tell the full story. We dominated and controlled the game but after losing to them earlier in the season I would have taken 1-0 so I’m very happy.”
With Reading and Surbiton still in hot pursuit, Wilson’s team know they face a battle if they are to hang on to top spot and secure European qualification. This week they face Leicester in a 5 o’clock start at Polo Farm.
“Playing against Leicester is always a battle. We have a lot of respect for them and they have been getting stronger and starting to really perform recently. We certainly won’t underestimate them.” Wilson told The Top of the D. “When we played them away we felt like they scored from our errors so even though they have plenty of ability we know if we can cut those mistakes out we will have an excellent chance. We are 100% focused on each game as it comes and not looking at where we might finish. There is a lot to concentrate on week by week so if you look ahead too far you can lose sight of the job at hand.”
Leicester come into the game still having aspirations of snatching the last playoff slot but suffered a setback as they went down 1-0 to fellow hopefuls Clifton, last week. With the Pukkas on 24 points, Clifton on 25 and Bowdon on 23 it is still very tight in the race for fourth. David Mayer’s side will need to be at their best if they are to claim some points from the league leaders and ramp the pressure up on their rivals.
Beeston and Olton, probably the two sides with the least to play for in the division meet at the weekend. Olton, are assured of last place in all but mathematics after they went down 4-1 to second bottom Sutton Coldfield at the weekend. Beeston, in their first season in the top flight have performed admirably but are in a unique group of one who are too far off the play off places but not quite in the relegation picture. A decent season of consolidation which they will aim to continue with three points on Saturday.
Clifton, who bolstered their playoff chances with a fine 1-0 win over Leicester last week, will aim to perform their silent assassin act on Bowdon Hightown, another playoff rival, this week. Bowdon went down 3-2 to University of Birmingham, leaving a dent in their chances, but not ruling them out by any means. Tina Cullen, Hightown’s Player-Coach could not hide her frustration, telling The Top of the D:
“We were very disappointed with our overall performance. We started well with two goals from Holly Hunt including an amazing reverse stick into the top corner. They scored two in the last ten minutes and despite our keeper playing well, Birmingham came back strongly and probably deserved the win. We need to move on to next week.”
Reading, fresh from gaining promotion in their European indoor adventure can now focus their efforts on their outdoor campaign and overhauling Canterbury. They travel to relegation threatened Sutton Coldfield with three points firmly in their sights. Steve Bayer’s side romped to a 6-0 win when the sides met at Sonning Lane and with no further distractions outside domestic league matters until April they will be confident of repeating the trick. Sutton, despite their 4-1 win over Olton last weekend would have been left hugely disappointed to have heard news of University of Birmingham’s win over Bowdon, ensuring the gap remains at three points.
That just leaves the clash between Surbiton and University of Birmingham. Brett Garrard’s side currently sit in third after being knocked off the top after one week at the summit when they went down to Leicester. With no game last week and with their Great Britain stars all back in the fold they will go into the game full of confidence, however in Birmingham they face a side who cannot be underestimated. Birmingham have lost by a single goal on no less than eight occasions this season. Talk to any of the coaches of other teams and they will tell you UoB’s talents do not match with their league position. Having gone 2-0 down to Bowdon after 21 minutes on Saturday they must have feared the worst, however goals from Lily Owsley, Alice Sharp and a last minute winner from the excellent Holly Payne ensured they picked up three points and kept their noses in front of Sutton Coldfield.
“It’s been strange for us this season. We’ve been playing well but not getting the results. As Steve Bayer [Reading Coach] said last week, we play some nice hockey but we haven’t quite been able to get the wins we needed.” Said Phil Gooderham, Birmingham’s coach. “We went 2-0 down early at the weekend and it would have been easy for a team in our position and with our experience to completely collapse. We didn’t and the character and will to win showed the strength we have in such a young group. It was definitely nice to be going home after a win than another narrow defeat.”
Gooderham paid tribute to the excellent attitude and work rate of his team, saying:
“The girls have kept being positive and never let their heads drop. If we’d been getting beaten heavily every week it’d be hard to draw positives from the games but that’s not been the case. We knew if we kept working hard and playing to our plans we would get the results eventually and that’s what happened. What’s been really pleasing for me is that even though we are a young side, no one has been hiding. Everyone wants the ball and everyone wants to step up. We try to play hockey in the right way and a way that’s enjoyable for the team so hopefully that’s what’s allowed us to keep going.”
Speaking ahead of their clash with Surbiton, who of course boast a number of former Birmingham players, Gooderham told TTOTD:
“Surbiton is a massive test. We expect them to be at full strength with their GB players back but we have huge confidence and self-belief so we’ll be focused on what we want to achieve. We have plenty of ability so we’ll be fighting for the points in every game. We don’t have any fear of anyone in this league. We have plenty of respect for our opponents but we go out confident we can get a result. That will be the case this weekend, as it is any other weekend. We have Sutton Coldfield on the last game of the season but we’d like to have secured our safety before then.”
With Canterbury being pushed all the way by Reading and Surbiton, three teams battling for the final playoff spot and with Sutton desperately trying to cling on to a rejuvenated University of Birmingham side the important matters in the league seem set to provide us with plenty of excitement as we approach the final few games.
As always you can follow all the results on the England Hockey website.