Surbiton Ladies need a point from their final regular season game at Buckingham on Saturday to finish top of the Investec Women’s Hockey League Premier Division for the fourth successive season.
East Grinstead dropped out of contention for a first place finish on Wednesday night when they drew 2-2 at Canterbury, but if Surbiton slip up at Stowe School, Holcombe can snatch first place with two wins over the weekend if they overcome a current nine goal inferior goal difference in the process.
The game is being played at Stowe School, Buckingham MK18 5EH and as with all games on the scheduled last day of the season, all matches start at 2 pm.
With both teams missing key players due to Commonwealth Games selection, Buckingham will also have something to play for as they trail fourth placed University of Birmingham by four points. Buckingham are in the position to achieve a league double over Surbiton after winning the first meeting 2-1 at Sugden Road in November with two late goals.
The win kept Buckingham in third place and a fortnight later they rose as high as second after a 4-1 home win to Slough but a run of five games without a win saw them drop to fifth as their hopes of making the playoffs suffered a setback.
In previous seasons in the Premier Division, Buckingham’s aim has been to stay up, usually via the Promotion Tournament, but having won the Conference West last season and stunned favourites Wimbledon by pipping them to promotion, together with Bowdon Hightown staying up, Buckingham have had their most successful season to date.
After a disappointing 3-1 defeat at Slough on the opening day of the season, Buckingham went on a run of seven games unbeaten, culminating in that win at Sugden Road. A 4-2 home win over Canterbury was followed by goalless draws at home to Holcombe and at Leicester and a 2-2 draw with the University of Birmingham.
Wins at Bowdon Hightown (1-0), at home to Clifton Robinsons (3-2) and at Surbiton were followed by a 3-1 defeat at home to East Grinstead and the home win over Slough to finish off 2017.
Buckingham stuttered in 2018, crashing 4-0 at the University of Birmingham, drawing 2-2 at Leicester, going down 3-2 at Canterbury, a 3-3 draw salvaged at Holcombe with another last minute penalty corner conversion and another 3-1 defeat at East Grinstead.
Buckingham got a much needed win at Clifton Robinsons last Saturday, prevailing 4-3, but have two home games against Surbiton and Bowdon Hightown to finish. Buckingham also have cup ambitions, having beaten the University of Birmingham’s second team in midweek to reach the Women’s Tier One competition semi-finals.
Buckingham have been equally adept at scoring from either open play or penalty corners, leading goalscorer Abbie Brant having scored five of her eight goals from open play. Natasha James has scored five goals, with two coming from penalty corners, with Kitty Higgins and Lauren Thomas, who scored Buckingham’s goals at Sugden Road weighing in with four goals each. All Higgins’ goals have come from penalty corners and Thomas scored with a penalty stroke earlier in the season.
Phoebe Richards and Eloise Laity, both selected to play for Wales at the Commonwealth Games along with Ella Jackson and Danielle Jordan, have scored three times apiece. Zoe Shipperley has scored twice and Emily Rowlands once.
Surbiton will be without six England internationals on duty at the Commonwealth Games after Emily Defroand and Jo Hunter were added to the squad as injury replacements earlier in the week, and Robyn Collins is in the Scottish squad.
Nevertheless, Surbiton will want to finish top of the table and qualify for Europe, although if they don’t defend their title at Lee Valley, they could be in the EuroHockey Club Trophy in 2018-19 depending on how Surbiton and Holcombe get on in Europe this season.
After the disruption caused by the unseasonal wintry weather there are issues to be settled this weekend. Leicester face what could be a key relegation battle at home to Clifton Robinsons on Sunday with both clubs in danger of automatic relegation.
Leicester trail Clifton by two points at the bottom of the table, but their fate could be sealed if they lose at Bowdon on Saturday and Clifton get something out of their trip to East Grinstead. Slough and Canterbury are also still in danger and the clubs meet in Kent on Saturday in another key clash. Slough then visit Birmingham and Canterbury have a Kent derby at Holcombe on Sunday.
Surbiton will be looking anxiously at the result of the University of Birmingham v Holcombe match on Saturday as anything less than a Holcombe win would also ensure Surbiton finish top of the table. Holcombe, East Grinstead, Birmingham and possibly Buckingham will all be jockeying for position to decide the Championships line-up at Lee Valley on 28 April.