East Grinstead, Beeston and Reading have all secured their places in the end of season Championship Playoffs, with Surbiton, Wimbledon and possibly Canterbury still hopeful of sneaking in the final place. Despite these three booking their slots with three games to go there will be no let up as first place, and automatic European qualification is still up for grabs.
East Grinstead who of course missed out on last season’s playoffs moved to the top of the league with two wins over the weekend, sweeping aside Hampstead and Westminster 9-3 on Saturday before crushing Wimbledon 7-0 on the Sunday. Grinstead were aided by an injury to Wimbledon goalkeeper Tom Millington at half time, but in truth the game was already firmly in their grasp by the point as the Sussex side had raced into a 3-0 lead.
Karl Stagno, East Grinstead Coach told The Top of the D:
“We’d spoken about how we’d defend and that was our main focus. We stifled them really well and stopped them from playing. We kept the ball well and the score line maybe doesn’t reflect the number of chances we created but the way we played was very pleasing.” he added: “Wimbledon are a contender for the play offs so to have as many chances as we did and to have as much of the ball as we did is a real testament to how hard the team has worked and how well we are starting to play.”
“We’re now focused on Cannock away where we want to perform well and take care of the three points.” Said Stagno, “We have an eye on the playoffs but at the moment we are trying to take it one game at a time and see where that leaves us. I set the team a target of 15 points from the remaining games and we’re on track for that which is great.”
As he said, Stagno’s side will go up against Cannock this weekend with the Nockers still not out of the woods at the wrong end of the table. Cannock were grateful to a Peter Jackson penalty corner five minutes from time to rescue a point from their relegation battle with Sheffield Hallam. With three games to go, they need to keep their noses in front of Hallam and Loughborough Students to ensure another season in the top flight.
Reading who also enjoyed a comfortable win over Hampstead and Westminster at the weekend will aim to keep the pressure on the top two as they face relegation threatened Sheffield Hallam. Hallam, as mentioned had to settle for a point against Cannock last week but it was enough to move them above Loughborough and keep them within touching distance of Cannock as they attempt a great escape. Charlie Seccombe, Reading’s coach is taking nothing for granted despite the two sides’ contrasting fortunes this season:
“Hallam are a difficult side. They’ve had a hard time of it in their first season in the Premier League. We’ve played worse teams than them so I’m surprised they are where they are. They’ll be scrapping for every point which makes life tricky for us. It’s a difficult time of the season as everyone is giving everything to ensure they get the points they need, whether it’s for playoffs or to stay up. We won’t underestimate them and we know we’re in for a very difficult game.” He added: “We tend to play better against teams with something to play for. We like games with something riding on them, a big occasion. It’s an old cliché but there are no easy games in this league. Each game from now is like a knock out game. We’d like to win playing well and boost our confidence but I’ll take winning ugly at this point.”
Beeston, who East Grinstead usurped from top spot, endured a tough Sunday against Canterbury, eventually taking a point from a 2-2 draw, but also having led 2-0 at half time. Coach Matt Taylor was quick to praise Canterbury despite the disappointment for his side:
“It was a bad day at the office, but hats off to Canterbury who played very well in the second half. We started the game brightly and created chances but we only managed to convert two of them.” He continued: “Having been reduced to nine men for five minutes at the end of the half we fought hard to maintain our two-goal lead going into the break. In the second half we never really got back the momentum and let them back into it. The game eventually finished 2-2, which felt like a loss, such is the expectation at the club.”
Taylor’s side take on Hampstead and Westminster this weekend, hoping they can repeat the positive results achieved by both East Grinstead and Reading against the same opponents last weekend.
Canterbury, unbeaten in their last four games have probably left it too late to snatch the last playoff place. Whilst mathematically it is still a possibility they need Surbiton not to pick up a single point in their last three games and Wimbledon to drop at least three points to ensure an unlikely turnaround. Despite this, in Player-Coach Kwan Browne and Captain Michael Farrer, they have two of the most determined and competitive leaders around, so the Polo Farm side will be a stern test for any team, starting with Surbiton this weekend. Canterbury ran out 5-1 winners when the sides met earlier in the season in what was a day to forget for the Sugden Road outfit. Todd Williams’ side need five points to secure fourth spot, although if other results go their way, it may not be that many. Surbiton thrashed Loughborough last weekend 8-2 with Alan Forsyth grabbing four of the goals to take him to 14 for the season.
Williams told The Top of the D:
“We were quite pleased with our response to the very disappointing day at Reading the week before. Loughborough have been tough to beat recently and so to win with a strong score line was a good sign that we are back heading in the right direction which is exactly where we need to be to take on in-form Canterbury.” He continued: “Needless to say we expect a very tough match and we still have the 5-1 hammering we received from them at their place fresh in our memory. With Matt Daly in great form on penalty corners and Alan Forsyth back fit and scoring, hopefully we can score the goals we need. With Canterbury’s proven ability to score it’s at the other end where we’ll need to be really switched on.”
That just leaves Wimbledon’s clash with bottom side Loughborough. The Students are in deep trouble, sitting a point behind Hallam and four points behind Cannock, who they need to overhaul just to avoid the relegation playoffs. Their heavy defeat to Surbiton last week will have done little to boost their confidence however Wimbledon are also coming in off the back of a heavy defeat. Player-Coach Ben Marsden could not hide his disappointment after the defeat to East Grinstead, saying:
“At half time our goalkeeper had a back spasm and couldn’t play. It didn’t make things any easier but to be honest 3-0 down at half time was a pretty poor first half by us. You can’t give a side like them a head start.”
It is unclear at this stage whether Tom Millington will be fit to take his place in the side for this weekend’s game, but one thing is for certain, despite his heroic efforts standing in for the goalkeeper John Harris will return to his usual outfield role!
Despite the setback, Marsden spoke in optimistic terms about his team’s upcoming games:
“It’s important not to dwell on today too much. We’ve been disappointed with some of our results lately but we have to remember we had a fantastic run before that and pick ourselves up to get back to that level again. Today was frustrating but we have to learn from it.”
With an automatic European place still on the table and with Surbiton still not quite assured of the fourth place there is still plenty to play for at the top of the league. At the bottom Cannock, Hallam and Loughborough will surely give everything until the final game to avoid the dreaded drop. Plenty could still happen at both ends of the table.
As always you can log on to the England Hockey Website for all the results.