Durham remain the obstacle as Bowdon bid to rise again
Bowdon Hightown defender Ian Wilson has rivals Durham in his sights, writes Will Holderness
SINCE relegation to the Men’s Conference North in 2012, Bowdon Hightown have flirted with promotion to reclaim their place in England’s top tier – but never quite made it.
Harking back to their proverbial glory days, Bowdon were accustomed to life in the Premier Division, having spent four seasons there from 2007.
With Simon Egerton their talisman, contributing 44 goals in 35 games, it was no surprise that the team from Altrincham established a regular place amongst the nation’s hockey elite.
However, after finishing bottom in the year they were relegated, Bowdon were made to adjust to life in the unfamiliar Conference divisions and have remained there ever since.
For any relegated side, dropping into the Conference is no easy transition as the lure of the Premier Division is often too tempting for most stars.
Keeping strength in depth and quality is vital to every side and, despite losing Egerton to Beeston for the 2012-13 season, Bowdon have found a formula to make them consistent performers in a challenging division.
Over the past four seasons they have finished a narrow second on three occasions and won the division in 2014-15, but couldn’t clinch the promotion they crave.
Overcoming this barrier has proven a tough task for Bowdon and, given the faultless start University of Durham have made to this campaign, it might follow a similarly tantalising trend again this season.
Currently sitting in their alltoo-familiar second place, Bowdon have had a mixed start to the season and are eight points adrift of the leaders.
But experienced defender Ian Wilson is in confident mood ahead of outdoor hockey returning next month.
“We’ve been a bit up and down this season. We had some spells where we played really good hockey but never managed to click for a full 70 minutes in a lot of our games,” he said.
“So far I think we can feel pretty good about the first half of the season – we’re still in the mix for top spot and not too far off Durham, so now our aim is to catch them.”
Durham’s 100-per-cent record puts them firmly in the Conference North driving seat but Bowdon themselves won five league games on the trot before the winter break.
Momentum plays a key part in any successful campaign and, with both teams in such rich veins of form, the league is finely poised for a blockbuster 2017.
“We had a run at the end where we won games right at the death, we went three or four on the bounce where we played to the last minute and won towards the end of the game,” Wilson added.
“That shows how fit we are now and how much we want it. Looking back, it’s gone well and we’re relishing the second half of the season.
“All credit to Durham, they’ve had a great first half of the season. They’ve won ten on the spin so the momentum is with them, but the Christmas break is going to halt that a little bit because everyone’s got to get going again in February when it restarts.”
It’ll certainly be some feat if Bowdon reel Durham in, but they do have the experience when it comes to pushing for promotion – with Wilson being part of the side that rose back into the Premier Division in 2006-07.
He said: “I’ve been in leagues before where you’re at the top and teams are chasing you and you get nervous. We hope they can drop a few points here and there and take it down to the wire with them.
“We’ve always been in the mix for this league, for four years on the spin we’ve been right up there.
“We have the experience, we’ve got players who have played at the highest level so we back ourselves if things do become pressurised in the last few games.”
As preparations for the second half of the season get under way, Bowdon have a fully-fit squad and two friendlies to prepare themselves for the return of league action on February 4.
Wilson and his team-mates welcome struggling Cannock to the north that day, before the crunch encounter with the Palatinates the following weekend – also at Bowdon.
“We’ve got to play them at our place, we back ourselves at home against pretty much any team because we’re hard to beat there so hopefully we can disrupt their run and make the points gap smaller,” Wilson added.
“We had a pretty tough training camp recently and did lots of fitness work to get ourselves back in shape again.
“We’ve got no-one injured. Our strength and conditioning coach keeps us in really good shape and with the physio looking after us as well I’m sure we’ll be in the best possible place for Cannock.”