M1 Visit Old Georgians In Top Of The Table Clash On Saturday
By Colin Pike
Surbiton Men start Phase 2 of the Men's Hockey League Premier Division with a visit to league leaders Old Georgians for an Elmbridge derby at 6 pm on Saturday night at St. George's College.
Phase 2 sees the twelve Premier Division teams split into two six team divisions. The Top Six comprises first to sixth after the first eleven fixtures with the Bottom Six containing teams from seventh to eleventh. The top two teams (designated seventh and eighth overall) join the Top Six teams in Phase 3.
Old Georgians have made an excellent start to their maiden title defence, finishing Phase 1 five points clear of second-placed Surbiton and remaining unbeaten in the process. Surbiton's only defeat of the season came at home to Old Georgians in the penultimate match of 2022, Ed Carson giving Old Georgians the lead only for Louis Gittens to quickly equalise, Henry Weir scoring the winning goal just before half time to clinch a 2-1 away win.
Surbiton drew 2-2 on their last visit to St. George's College in March 2022, having lost 2-0 in November 2021. The first top-flight meeting between the teams at Old Georgians was a seven goal floodlight thriller with Surbiton just coming out on top 4-3.
Old Georgians were dominant at Sugden Road in February 2022 when they ran out 5-1 winners and honours were even in February 2020 when the teams drew 3-3.
Old Georgians came close to adding the Super 6s indoor title to their outdoor title, just missing out on a shootout to holders, Wimbledon. They will want to bounce back against their local rivals and with Sam Ward having already accumulated 25 goals this season out of a total of 52 scored, the reigning champions will be in fine fettle to continue their defence.
Former Surbiton player, James Tindall has scored five goals with Old Georgians having immense strength in depth in goalscoring. Lee Morton is on four, Matt Brown on three with James Albery, James Carson, Ashley Jackson, Chris Proctor, Alexander Fraser and Tom Carson all on two goals. Edward Carson, Chris Griffiths and Henry Weir have each contributed once.
An Old Georgians victory would open up an eight point gap over Surbiton with Wimbledon poised to replace Surbiton in second with a home win over Holcombe. Wimbledon had some disappointing news on Friday when the EHF confirmed that the Men's Indoor Cup, due to be held in Alanya, Turkey next weekend, had been cancelled due to the serious situation in the country. Wimbledon had qualified after lifting the Super 6s title last season, but if the tournament can't be restaged, then they have the consolation of knowing that they can compete in Europe next season after retaining their title in 2023.
Wimbledon drew 2-2 with Holcombe back in November, but have won the last three home games against the Kent club, with Nick Bandurak failing to score in all three games. in spite of scoring in the last five encounters between the teams at Holcombe Park. Ironically, the last time Bandurak scored away to Wimbledon in November 2018, Holcombe won 2-0.
The final Top Six fixture which sees Hampstead & Westminster welcome Reading to Paddington Recreation Ground, has a long history going back to 2002. With Reading returning to the Premier Division after winning promotion from Division One South last season, Hampstead won 4-3 in Berkshire back in December and face Reading at home for the first time since February 2020 when Hampstead won 5-0.
The Bottom Six starts Phase 2 with the top four teams separated by a single point in the chase for a first and second-placed finish. Beeston lead Oxted on goal difference and travel to Brooklands Manchester University who had a nightmare Phase One, with only a 2-2 draw at the University of Exeter to show for their efforts. Brooklands v Beeston has an even longer history going back to the 1998-99 season although the teams didn't meet for various seasons due to Brooklands being relegated from the Premier Division on a few occasions.
Former Surbiton player, Jamie Golden was Beeston's hero in the first meeting at Nottingham Hockey Centre as his last gasp goal prevented Beeston from achieving their last goalless draw since March 2017 when they drew with....Brooklands!
Oxted make the short trip across the border into West Sussex to face East Grinstead, who were their first ever Premier Division opponents in September 2020. The teams met in the last match of 2022, when East Grinstead ended Oxted's hopes of a Top Six finish by winning 3-1 at Caterham School.
There is also a University Challenge as the University of Nottingham visit the University of Exeter, with Nottingham having won 3-2 in the East Midlands back in October. Nottingham had also won in the 2018 Promotion Tournament in April 2018 at the University of Birmingham, but it was Exeter who won promotion alongside Sevenoaks retaining their Premier Division status.