NOW: Pensions Men’s Championship Playoffs Preview.

And now, the end is near. With the ten teams whittled down over the 18 league games to the top four, this weekend is the NOW: Pensions Men’s Championship Playoffs. East Grinstead face Surbiton in one semi-final and Reading go up against Beeston in the other. The Top of the D gives you the lowdown on the teams involved.

East Grinstead.

Last Year: Did not qualify for playoffs (finished 5th in the league.)

2013/14 League Position: 1st.

Record: P: 18 W: 14 D: 2 L: 2 F: 86 A: 44 Pts 44.

Top Scorer: Mark Pearn (18 goals.)

What they say:

NOW: Pensions Hockey LeagueGlenn Kirkham, East Grinstead Captain:
“I think we had a little bit of complacency in the squad. We had done really well over the previous five or six years so it was taken for granted that we’d qualify for Europe. The year after London quite a few players perhaps took their eye off the ball. We had some rebuilding to do as well, players left and the new players took some time to bed in. The players we’ve brought in, like Andy Bull and David Condon were playing at sides that haven’t had the chance to play in Europe before so they have that hunger and desire which has pushed us on. Hopefully we’ll be able show everyone what we can do in the playoffs.”

Karl Stagno, East Grinstead Coach:
“If I’m honest all four teams will say the same thing, if we hit our stride we would back ourselves to win the playoffs. All the teams are capable of beating each other on their day so the key in this situation is knowing how to do what you need to do to produce a performance when it really matters. We’ve been working towards that all season and we are heading in the right direction, but there is work to be done still to maintain those standards.”

What The Top of the D says:
Back after a one season absence from the playoffs, East Grinstead recruited very well last summer both on and off the pitch. The introduction of the likes of Andy Bull, David Condon, and Simon Faulkner and the recruitment of Karl Stagno as coach has paid real dividends. EG has operated a new, more continental style of hockey this time out, a sort of variant of total hockey where players are popping up all over the pitch, making them hard to play against. In Ashley Jackson and Mark Pearn they have two of the league’s most potent goal threats whilst Glenn Kirkham, now retired from the international game is still one of the league’s stellar performers. Grinstead score plenty of goals but have also conceded the most of the teams in the playoffs, suggesting they are not invincible, however, they will go into the competition as a strong favourite off the back of their league form.


Last Year: Runners Up.

2013/14 League Position: 4th.

Record: P: 18 W: 10 D: 4 L: 4 F: 70 A: 41 Pts: 34

Top scorer: Matt Daly (22 goals)

What they say:
Todd Williams, Surbiton Coach:
“You have to beat the best teams and you need to keep doing it. In the playoffs we’ll need to do it again and again. We drew with Reading and EG and we got a win against Beeston, so we need to keep looking forwards and taking it one game at a time, you know, the usual clichés! Given we’ve got Europe to come as well; there is plenty to play for. We’ve got to get the group right and work out who wants to go through the tough periods and stand up and be counted. Those guys are the ones who’ll get us where we want to be and I’m confident we have enough of them.”

NOW: Pensions Hockey LeagueWhat The Top of the D says:
Last year’s runners up are back for another crack at the title. Surbiton have scored plenty of goals this season, with only semi-final opponents East Grinstead finding the net more than them in the league. With Matt Daly (22 goals) and Alan Forsyth (17 goals) in splendid form the Sugden Road side are always a danger against any opposition. Defensively they have had a good season with goalkeeper David Kettle impressing and Jonny Gall and Ben Tibble in particular outstanding in the back four. Surbiton may have finished in the fourth and final playoff place but they have quality all over the pitch. They have drawn and lost against their semi-final opponents this season, the defeat coming in a high scoring clash that finished 6-5 to EG. You’d expect goals from two of the league’s great entertainers when they come together this weekend. Surbiton may go in as underdogs but they certainly won’t roll over.


Last Year: Champions

2013/14 League Position: 2nd

Record: P: 18 W: 14 D: 2 L: 2 F: 56 A: 33 Pts: 44.

Top Scorer: Sam Ward (21 goals.)

What they say:
Matt Taylor, Beeston Coach:

“We have a few players out but that’s why we have the squad size we do, it’s up the other players to step up to the mark. We want to win the title and to get into Europe it’s as simple as that. We’ve approached every game as though it’s a playoff game and I’m confident our squad is good enough to keep winning.”

NOW: Pensions Hockey LeagueWhat The Top of the D says:
Beeston went stride for stride with East Grinstead in the league, missing out on top spot by virtue of goal difference. The depth of their squad has been severely tested with a growing injury list meaning they have had to cope without some of their top performers for a large part of the second half of the season. It looks like both George Pinner and David Ames will be absent for the playoffs, which would be a blow to any side. However, Beeston can still count on the talents of the two Lawrences, Richard and Stephen as well as the considerable skills of Captain and Hockey Writers’ Player of the Year Adam Dixon, too. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough they have Sam Ward up front to score the goals. Ward has scored in 15 of the 18 league games this season and boasts a tally of 21 goals in the league. He has been a constant threat all season and will relish the chance to show his skills on the playoff stage. Beeston overcame Reading on a shootout last season in the semi-finals before sweeping aside Surbiton in the final. Despite their depleted side, there is still more than enough experience in their ranks to give them an excellent chance of retaining their crown.


Last Year: 3rd

2013/14 League Position: 3rd

Record: P: 18 W: 12 D: 3 L: 3 F: 65 A: 34 Pts: 39.

Top Scorer: Andy Watts (10 goals.)

What they say:
Charlie Seccombe, Reading Coach:

“We’re confident going into playoffs. The way the semis seem to be shaping up, hopefully we can get through and set up a return match against East Grinstead and beat them like we did a couple of years ago. Our team will be confident. We just need to make sure we’re switched on for 70 minutes and that we play to our ability, we’ll see where that leaves us. 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. We’d like to win playing well but I’ll take winning ugly!”

131124 canterbury reading 23What The Top of the D says:
Reading come into the playoffs hoping to secure European qualification for a record 19th year in a row. On its own that should tell you they are a side who can come up with the goods when it really matters. Their record in the league against their playoff rivals is fairly modest, picking up one win (against Surbiton) three draws and two losses, but that will matter little this weekend. As Charlie Seccombe mentions above, Reading often bring their best when the big occasion comes around. They will have respect for Beeston, who beat them earlier on in the season, but with their own squad brimming with international class players they will not fear any of their rivals. Andy Watts has returned from an injury layoff to start banging the goals in again, hitting form at just the right time of the season, whilst Richard Mantell’s nine penalty corner strikes will not have gone unnoticed by the other teams. Add to that Nick Catlin, the league’s player of the year in scintillating form and Reading will be a match for anyone.

Who do you think will win the playoffs? Why not leave a comment below or tweet me @TheTopoftheD to tell me your thoughts.

You can still buy tickets to attend the playoff finals, visit the England Hockey website for details.

About thetopofthed

Columnist for The Hockey Paper and the man behind The Top of the D. Writer, podcaster, goalkeeper and BBC Sport man. Used to work for Great Britain Hockey and have covered the sport at every major tournament.
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1 Response to NOW: Pensions Men’s Championship Playoffs Preview.

  1. John Dobson says:

    Anyone other than EG please


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