L1 Host Wimbledon on Saturday Evening
By Colin Pike
Surbiton Ladies host Wimbledon at Sugden Road on Saturday evening (5.30 pm) as the Vitality Women's Hockey League Premier Division enters Phase 2 of the 2022-23 season in a new format compared with last season.
The Premier Division has split into two divisions of six teams, with first to sixth after 11 games forming the Top Six and seventh to twelfth forming the Bottom Six. Each team will play its five divisional rivals once in Phase 2 after which the top two teams in the Bottom Six (designated 7th and 8th overall) will join the six Top Six teams for Phase 3.
Surbiton finished Phase One five points clear of second-placed Wimbledon, although Wimbledon are the only unbeaten team in the top flight but lost ground after drawing four of their eleven games. Surbiton's only defeat of the season came at Raynes Park High School, where Megan Crowson gave Wimbledon a third minute lead from the penalty spot, but although Darcy Bourne equalised before half time, Fiona Burnet's third quarter goal proved decisive in giving Wimbledon their first ever league win over Surbiton by a 2-1 margin.
Surbiton's previous visit to Raynes Park High School in February 2022 saw Steph Elliott score the only goal of the game and when the teams met for the first time at league level at Sugden Road in October 2021, Fiona Crackles put Wimbledon ahead but Bourne earned Surbiton a point in a 1-1 draw.
Burnet, Jen Eadie and Crowson are Wimbledon's joint leading goalscorers this season on four goals, with Flora Peel, former Surbiton players Hollie Pearne-Webb and Olivia Chilton and Suzy Petty each scoring twice with captain, Harriet Naismith having found the net once.
Sophie Hamilton is Surbiton's leading goalscorer with ten goals followed by Hannah Martin and Bourne both on six. Giselle Ansley has struck on four occasions, with Surbiton's strength in depth evidenced by Elliott and Petter each scoring three goals, Amy Costello, Jess Dyson, Martha Le Huray and Alice Wills all scoring twice and Meg Dowthwaite, Jenny O'Grady and Leah Wilkinson scoring once each.
Wimbledon will also want to be the first team to breach the Surbiton defence at Sugden Road this season as goalkeeper Sabbie Heesh has kept six clean sheets at home.
Elsewhere on Saturday, third-placed Hampstead & Westminster host sixth-placed Clifton Robinsons for the second successive home game, having finished their 2022 home campaign with a 5-1 victory. Clifton held Hampstead to a 3-3 home draw in February last year, but lost 3-2 in 2019-20 in Hampstead's debut Premier Division season. Clifton have only ever beaten Hampstead once, 5-4 in a home thriller in October 2019.
The last Top Six fixture sees East Grinstead travel to Nottingham Hockey Centre to take on a Beeston team aiming for new heights. East Grinstead have won on all four previous visits to Nottingham but Beeston beat East Grinstead 3-2 in West Sussex in March 2022 and also drew 3-3 at Saint Hill when the teams met back in November.
In the Bottom Six, Reading and Loughborough Students go into Phase 2 in the all-important top two spots. Reading drew 0-0 with Holcombe in October as Holcombe visited Sonning Lane for the first time in the Premier Division since September 2016, when Reading had lost 5-2 in what culminated in a relegation season.
Loughborough make the relatively short distance to the University of Nottingham, where in October the teams battled to a 4-4 draw in Nottingham's first season in the top flight.
Buckingham head to the University of Birmingham desperate to secure Premier Division safety after winning just one of their first eleven games. That sole victory came at home to Birmingham in November when Lyndsey White scored both goals.