How they fared...

Jack Miller rounds up an­other thrilling sea­son in the Men’s and Women’s Premier Divi­sions

The Hockey Paper - - NEWS -

We re­view the Na­tional League sea­son, club by club

HOL­COMBE

HOL­COMBE head into the endof-sea­son shake-up in sparkling form af­ter end­ing their bestever sea­son in the Women’s In­vestec League with a flourish.

The Camels may have fin­ished nine points be­hind the ir­re­sistible Sur­biton, but they are still cel­e­brat­ing a sec­ond­placed fin­ish, im­prov­ing on fourth and fifth re­spec­tively in their pre­vi­ous two cam­paigns.

The Kent side put day­light be­tween them­selves and the likes of East Grin­stead and the Univer­sity of Birm­ing­ham by virtue of a fine eight-match un­beaten run, which in­cluded vic­to­ries over both of those chas­ing teams.

Hol­combe have been beaten just twice this sea­son and will lock horns with East Grin­stead – the West Sus­sex out­fit were one of the two teams to have got the bet­ter of the Holcs – at Lee Val­ley on April 22 in the semi­fi­nals of the Cham­pi­onships.

CAN­TER­BURY

The start and the end were some­thing of a plus point for Can­ter­bury’s sea­son, but it was the mid-sea­son strug­gle that pre­vented them from finishing higher than sev­enth.

Start­ing with seven points from a pos­si­ble 12, it looked like things would head in the same shape as pre­vi­ous cam­paigns for a side that fin­ished run­ner­sup to Sur­biton in the past three sea­sons.

But a win­ter slump saw Can­ter­bury win just once in ten top-flight matches, end­ing their hopes of get­ting back into the top four once more.

That was largely down to a dis­ap­point­ing home record, los­ing five out of their nine matches on fa­mil­iar soil, a poor haul con­sid­er­ing they more than held their own on the road.

READ­ING

Read­ing en­dured a league sea­son to for­get in the Premier Di­vi­sion, al­though a win on the fi­nal day against Slough may of­fer some hope that there’ s light at the end of the tun­nel.

Six straight de­feats saw them off to the worst pos­si­ble start and it wasn’t un­til Novem­ber that they man­aged to pick up their first point, with a 1-1 draw at home to Bow­don Hightown.

Three fur­ther de­feats, with 12 goals con­ceded, meant the in­doors were a wel­come break.

But the sec­ond half of the sea­son was a re­peat of the first with a 0-0 away at Bow­don Hightown not enough to pre­vent rel­e­ga­tion af­ter con­ced­ing 47 goals in their other 17 league fix­tures.

UNIVER­SITY OF BIRM­ING­HAM

This cam­paign has been a case of light­ning strik­ing twice for Univer­sity of Birm­ing­ham as they equalled last sea­son’s re­sult by reach­ing the play-offs.

Buoyed by the pre­vi­ous sea­son, Birm­ing­ham kicked things off with a 4-1 home vic­tory over Bow­don Hightown only to lose 3-2 at Sur­biton. But they didn’t have to worry about away form hold­ing them back, as they would lose just once more on the road all sea­son.

In fact, it was their home form that was prov­ing trou­ble­some, win­ning just once in front of their own fans be­fore the win­ter break.

They would also lose twice at home from Fe­bru­ary on­wards – in­clud­ing go­ing down 6-0 against Sur­biton, the team they face in the play-offs on Satur­day April 22.

But in Erica San­ders they have the sec­ond-best goalscorer in the di­vi­sion; her to­tal of 14 bet­tered only by Sur­biton’s Giselle Ans­ley.

EAST GRIN­STEAD

East Grin­stead fin­ished the sea­son third in the Premier Di­vi­sion – set­ting up a play-off match with Hol­combe – with their un­beaten away form cru­cial to their im­pres­sive sea­son.

They ex­pe­ri­enced an in­dif­fer­ent run of home games, only se­cur­ing three wins as well as suf­fer­ing three de­feats in suc­ces­sion in Fe­bru­ary.

The Sus­sex-based side lost just three games all sea­son but not con­vert­ing draws into vic­to­ries cost them – they drew more games than any other side in the league

They will take plenty of con­fi­dence into their play-off match with Hol­combe, having se­cured a 1-0 vic­tory over their ri­vals at the start of the sea­son.

LE­ICES­TER

LE­ICES­TER went into the fi­nal day of the sea­son still with an out­side chance of finishing in the top four, only for a 1-1 draw at Hol­combe to dash those hopes.

In the end, it mat­tered lit­tle as Univer­sity of Birm­ing­ham won 2-1 at Can­ter­bury any­way to se­cure fourth, but there was still plenty to smile about this term as they im­proved on last sea­son’s sixth-place fin­ish.

Af­ter win­ning just one home game be­fore Christ­mas, Le­ices­ter im­proved in front of their own fans in 2017, tri­umph­ing three times and draw­ing once.

But what will have buoyed the Le­ices­ter coaches is the fact that in their eight games against the even­tual top four sides they lost just twice – away to Hol­combe and at home to league-top­pers Sur­biton.

CLIFTON ROBIN­SONS

Clifton fin­ished the sea­son sixth in the Premier Di­vi­sion, just four points from reach­ing the end-of-sea­son play-offs, and they will rue their end-of-sea­son stut­ter which saw them lose four of their last six fix­tures.

They were never beaten by more than two goals and were just a cou­ple of re­sults away from a play-off berth and a shot at the ti­tle.

Back-to-back losses against even­tual top-four fin­ish­ers East Grin­stead and Univer­sity of Birm­ing­ham con­demned Clifton to miss out af­ter a sea­son plagued by in­con­sis­tency.

Whilst they won nine matches in all, Clifton could not make their home ground a fortress, los­ing four of their fix­tures in the West Coun­try as well as tast­ing de­feat on four oc­ca­sions on their trav­els.

SUR­BITON

Sur­biton are chas­ing a fourth league ti­tle in a row and they will be heavy favourites af­ter finishing nine points clear of sec­ond-placed Hol­combe dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son.

They were im­pe­ri­ous at home, drop­ping just two points at their Sug­den Road ground and al­most im­pen­e­tra­ble on their trav­els, only con­ced­ing six goals in nine games.

Half of those came in their sur­prise de­feat at Le­ices­ter in Fe­bru­ary, but blem­ishes on their record have been few and far be­tween oth­er­wise.

Giselle Ans­ley has had her most pro­duc­tive sea­son to date, fir­ing 20 goals in all com­pe­ti­tions as Sur­biton have found that win­ning com­bi­na­tion of scor­ing the most goals in the di­vi­sion (53) whilst having the stingi­est de­fence (14).

SLOUGH

Af­ter top­ping two dif­fer­ent Con­fer­ence divi­sions in the space of as many years, Slough suc­cess­fully safe­guarded their po­si­tion at the coun­try’s top ta­ble this term.

Just three vic­to­ries were enough for Slough to keep them­selves above the drop zone in this cam­paign, with their first com­ing cour­tesy of a 4-3 tri­umph over Bow­don in Oc­to­ber.

On the fi­nal day, Slough suf­fered the in­dig­nity of be­com­ing the first team to lose to lo­cal ri­vals Read­ing, safe in the knowl­edge that they would be play­ing Premier Di­vi­sion hockey again next sea­son.

BOW­DON HIGHTOWN

They’ve been there be­fore and got the t-shirt, but Bow­don Hightown will nonethe­less be dis­ap­pointed an­other rel­e­ga­tion play-off awaits them at Lee Val­ley this month.

De­spite a good run in the in­door com­pe­ti­tion, the side that has never been out of Eng­land’s Premier Di­vi­sion since its in­cep­tion will face their sec­ond rel­e­ga­tion play-off in as many sea­sons.

They could only muster one win and five draws this term, with that sole vic­tory com­ing on home soil all the way back in Septem­ber against Le­ices­ter.

Away draws to East Grin­stead and Read­ing be­fore Christ­mas did not help them gain any mo­men­tum, and their five-game los­ing run at the end of the sea­son is not the best way to pre­pare for do-or-die clashes against Wim­ble­don, Brook­lands Poyn­ton, and Buck­ing­ham.

WIM­BLE­DON

Wim­ble­don went into this sea­son aim­ing for a third straight league ti­tle, and they are cer­tainly look­ing good to make that dream a re­al­ity.

In the pre­vi­ous two cam­paigns, they fin­ished the reg­u­lar sea­son third and fourth re­spec­tively be­fore go­ing on to claim the ti­tle but this time around, they topped the ta­ble for the first time in their his­tory.

Three open­ing vic­to­ries were fol­lowed by three con­sec­u­tive draws – two at home – but nine wins in a row put Wim­ble­don in the driv­ing seat.

They tasted their one and only loss away at Can­ter­bury, as they went down 5-2 to the strugglers, but their unas­sail­able lead at the top of the league meant a 2-1 win at home against Hamp­stead and West­min­ster – the team they face in the play­offs on Satur­day April 22 – was enough to clinch it.

HOL­COMBE

Hol­combe kept them­selves on track for a first shot at na­tional glory with an­other im­pres­sive Premier Di­vi­sion fin­ish.

Al­though the Kent out­fit were un­able to re­peat their ta­ble-top­ping hero­ics of last sea­son, they still man­aged to fin­ish sec­ond be­hind Wim­ble­don, se­cur­ing a an­other Fi­nals tour­na­ment ap­pear­ance.

They did suf­fer a wob­ble on the road to­wards the end of the sea­son, having failed to win any of their last four away as­sign­ments, but will be hop­ing that has lit­tle bear­ing on their semi­fi­nal show­down with Sur­biton on April 22.

They have also only tasted de­feat at home once all term – that came at the hands of last sea­son’s cham­pi­ons Wim­ble­don – and have con­ceded the least goals in the di­vi­sion, with 30.

SUR­BITON

Sur­biton con­tin­ued their record of qual­i­fy­ing for the play-offs in ev­ery sea­son since they were in­tro­duced – and this could be the year they fi­nally claim the ti­tle.

They’ve cer­tainly been en­ter­tain­ing to watch, with their 62 goals mak­ing them the Premier Di­vi­sion’s high­est scor­ers, which en­abled them to re­cover su­perbly from an open­ing day de­feat against Hol­combe.

Alan Forsyth has been the main threat through the cam­paign, fir­ing in 20 goals, with eight of those com­ing in back-to­back thrash­ings of Bee­ston and Brook­lands MU in Novem­ber.

How­ever, while they re­main un­beaten since Septem­ber, there have been a frus­trat­ing amount of draws since the turn of the year – the eight they’ve racked up in to­tal is an­other league high.

HAMP­STEAD AND WEST­MIN­STER

H&W will com­pete in the Premier Di­vi­sion play-offs for the first time in their his­tory on April 22, where they will face off against de­fend­ing two-time cham­pi­ons Wim­ble­don.

And it was their home form that saw them fin­ish fourth in the reg­u­lar sea­son, los­ing just once in front of their own fans with a 4-3 re­verse to Sur­biton.

How­ever, their form away from Polo Farm left a lit­tle to be de­sired as they won just three times on the road.

But af­ter Christ­mas, Hamp­stead and West­min­ster lost just once on their trav­els and will be able to take con­fi­dence from that turn­around as they head to Lee Val­ley.

Un­for­tu­nately, that one loss came against play-off op­po­nents Wim­ble­don, so re­venge will be the or­der of the day in the play-offs.

If they are to do so then you can be sure that the league’s sec­ond top scorer with 15, Matt Guise-Brown, will have some­thing to do about it!

EAST GRIN­STEAD

East Grin­stead fin­ished sixth in the Premier Di­vi­sion af­ter an up-and-down sea­son that saw them pick up eight wins in all.

Com­fort­ably clear of rel­e­ga­tion, they were in the hunt for a play-off place for long stretches of the sea­son but were even­tu­ally beaten to fourth spot by Hamp­stead and West­min­ster.

East Grin­stead picked up three away wins in the cam­paign as they dis­patched the league’s bot­tom three sides but failed to pick up any points on the road at their near­est ri­vals.

They were beaten just twice at home and picked up five wins to keep them com­fort­ably in mid-ta­ble of the Premier Di­vi­sion, ul­ti­mately un­done by their poor record against the even­tual top four, los­ing six of their eight fix­tures.

READ­ING

Af­ter finishing third, level on points with even­tual win­ners Wim­ble­don last year, Read­ing would have been hop­ing for bet­ter than a sev­enth-place fin­ish this time around.

Of their six league vic­to­ries, five came in their fix­tures against the three sides that fin­ished be­low them with a 3-2 vic­tory over East Grin­stead their only other suc­cess.

A 6-1 fi­nal day win over Lough­bor­ough Stu­dents ended a run of four games with­out a win and they do have the con­so­la­tion of reach­ing the Men’s Cup fi­nal – lift­ing sil­ver­ware af­ter a dif­fi­cult sea­son could be a much-needed lift head­ing into the sum­mer.

BROOK­LANDS MU

Brook­lands MU suf­fered a sober­ing start to the Premier Di­vi­sion sea­son – los­ing their first five fix­tures – but fi­nally earned their first league points with a vic­tory over Lough­bor­ough Stu­dents in late Oc­to­ber.

They ul­ti­mately picked up just eight points in their nine home fix­tures with wins com­ing against Can­ter­bury and the even­tu­ally rel­e­gated Lough­bor­ough.

While they were not go­ing to trou­ble the top four, they had to find some form if they were to avoid fea­tur­ing in a po­ten­tial rel­e­ga­tion play-off and even­tu­ally did just that.

Valu­able draws against high­fly­ing Sur­biton and Bee­ston put them in the driv­ing seat to avoid the drop and left their fate in their own hands head­ing into the fi­nal cou­ple of weeks.

And the Sale-based out­fit’s Premier Di­vi­sion sta­tus was of­fi­cially re­tained when they beat Can­ter­bury and Lough­bor­ough in their fi­nal two fix­tures of the cam­paign.

CAN­TER­BURY

As good as their Men’s Cup form has been this sea­son, Can­ter­bury have been left to re­flect on a po­lar op­po­site league cam­paign in the Premier League – one which could still end in com­plete dis­as­ter..

A ninth-place fin­ish means they are now fac­ing a play-off bid for their sur­vival, with a home clash against Durham Univer­sity first on their agenda.

That came af­ter a sea­son which saw them lose 12 out of 18 con­tests, though two vic­to­ries did come in their last four games.

The slight im­prove­ment seemed to have been rec­ti­fied in their cup out­ings, and they are set for a fi­nal with Read­ing on April 29.

Be­fore that though comes the rel­e­ga­tion co­nun­drum, a far from easy task which will also see Team Bath Buc­ca­neers and Sevenoaks bid­ding to take their place in the top flight.

LOUGH­BOR­OUGH STU­DENTS

Lough­bor­ough strug­gled to make the grade on their re­turn to the top flight, end­ing their Premier Di­vi­sion cam­paign with just a sin­gle point to show for their ef­forts.

The Univer­sity out­fit con­ceded 36 goals across the next nine matches – all of which end­ing in de­feat.

The in­door por­tion of the cam­paign did of­fer some respite for Lough­bor­ough with a sev­enth place fin­ish in the Su­per 6s Cham­pi­onships ta­ble.

A 2-2 draw at Sur­biton on March 12 pro­vided their soli­tary point for the sea­son.

BEE­STON

The Bees jumped up to fifth with a fi­nal-day vic­tory over East Grin­stead, but in truth this cam­paign ended up be­ing a case of ‘what could have been’ for the Not­ting­ham side.

De­spite a youth­ful squad and the de­par­ture of key play­ers at the end of last sea­son, they looked like they could be on to repli­cate their ti­tle wins of 201011, 2012-13 and 2013-14 af­ter go­ing down just twice to top-four sides Hol­combe and Sur­biton in their open­ing ten games.

How­ever, for all their prom­ise, a 2-0 home tri­umph over Lough­bor­ough was all they could man­age in the sec­ond half of their cam­paign be­fore their fi­nal-day salvo against EG.

PIC­TURE: Tim Reder

Glory Hunt: Jo Hunter and her Sur­biton team-mates were in blis­ter­ing form this sea­son, los­ing just once

PIC­TURE: Max Flego

Si­mon Man­tell (stick raised) cel­e­brates af­ter scor­ing for Wim­ble­don

PIC­TURE: Tim Reder

Alan Forsyth of Sur­biton wrong foots Michael Hoare of Wim­ble­don

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