How they fared...
Jack Miller rounds up another thrilling season in the Men’s and Women’s Premier Divisions
We review the National League season, club by club
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.
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 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 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 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 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 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).
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.
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 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 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 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 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
Glory Hunt: Jo Hunter and her Surbiton team-mates were in blistering form this season, losing just once
Simon Mantell (stick raised) celebrates after scoring for Wimbledon
Alan Forsyth of Surbiton wrong foots Michael Hoare of Wimbledon