Having looked already at the five players vying to be named as the first choice goalkeeper in The Top of the D’s Team of the Season, it is today the turn of the defenders to go under the microscope. As before, these choices are based on players I have watched myself and recommendations from some of the coaches I have spoken to, so apologies for any players who you feel have been wrongly overlooked! Here goes:
Tim Whiteman, Beeston:
Whiteman, a relative latecomer to the international scene has really kicked on since joining up with the Central Programme. He has shown his outstanding skills in both domestic and international hockey in what has been a truly excellent year for the 26-year-old. Comfortable on the ball, composed under pressure, able to attack from the back yet still in the right place at the right time defensively, Whiteman has been an impressive performer for the Bees, turning heads with his seemingly limitless supply of energy and his trickery and pace with the ball.
Ollie Willars, Beeston:
Another of the Bees’ international stars Willars is starting to look a very accomplished defender indeed. He seems to have the ability to read the game and is strong in the tackle. His distribution, too has been exemplary, firing some exquisite passes out of the back to ensure Beeston transition from defence to attack at lightning pace. Still only 23, Willars has been quietly effective in the league’s tightest defence.
Richard Mantell, Reading:
You know exactly what you’re going to get from Mantell and this season has been no different. A strong, physical presence in the Reading back line, the second meanest defence in the league, Mantell’s tackling ability is still as good as ever. His eye for a pass is pretty decent too, his trademark long range passes still provide a good platform for Reading’s fast-breaking attack. He has also chipped in with nine league goals this season, all from penalty corners, showing his worth at both ends for his team.
Jonny Gall, Surbiton:
Gall, who is still under 21, plays with the calmness and maturity of a player much older and more experienced. He undertakes a vital role in the Surbiton defence taking a lot of responsibility for the organisation of the back four. His hand-eye coordination is spectacular, bringing down aerials with ease and halting attackers’ 3D skills in their tracks with some impeccable tackling. Gall seems to have all the tools to be a really fantastic defender and will only get better.
Ben Tibble, Surbiton:
Surbiton’s captain is the type of defender every team needs. Every time I have watched his side play Tibble has helped marshal the back line, tackled everything and rarely misplaced a pass. Surbiton’s home win over Beeston was notable not just for Matt Daly’s penalty corner accuracy but also for an excellent defensive display, especially when down to nine men, from the home side. Tibble was exemplary that day and has been on the occasions I have seen his side this season.
Michael Hoare, Wimbledon:
Hoare was an important signing for Wimbledon last summer. A side facing their first spell in the Premier League needed some experience to be added to their backline and Hoare, who won the title the previous year with Beeston was exactly the solution. He turned in particularly impressive displays against Reading, Beeston and Cannock but was a model of consistency every time he played. Wimbledon’s defensive record was only bettered by the top four and Hoare was an integral part of that.
Andy Bull, East Grinstead:
Captain Glenn Kirkham has spoken of the renewed hunger and desire in the East Grinstead squad to win the top honours. Bull is the type of player responsible for this. A player who is whole-hearted in everything he does in every game. Bull, a summer signing from Loughborough provides a good attacking outlet, solid defensive ability and a real will to win. It has been an impressive first campaign at Saint Hill for the England U21 skipper and I am sure there is plenty more to come.
Make sure you use the poll below to vote for your back four. You can vote for up to four players and voting closes on Thursday.