Surbiton First Teams Aiming for Playoff Glory This Weekend
By Colin Pike
Both Surbiton First Teams will be aiming to make history on their home pitch this weekend as the League Finals are held at Sugden Road for the first time this weekend.
Four years after playoffs were last held at Lee Valley in 2019, with the 2020 playoffs cancelled due to Covid-19 and the new league structure not including playoffs last season, the Vitality Women's Hockey League and Men's Hockey League champions will be decided in a Final Four setup over Saturday and Sunday.
Surbiton Ladies won their first title in 2014, the last year that the finals were held at a club venue, Sonning Lane in Reading, and in 2023 will be hoping to be champions for the ninth time in succession, with the exception of the curtailed 2020-21 season.
Surbiton face Hampstead & Westminster in the first semi-final at 1 pm on Saturday and although Hampstead have only beaten Surbiton once in seven top-flight meetings, that victory came at Sugden Road in March 2022 when Grace Balsdon and Lucy Hyams both scored in a 2-0 win.
This season, Surbiton won 2-0 at Paddington Recreation Ground in November, the Premier Division's top scorer, Sophie Hamilton scoring together with captain, Steph Elliott. Surbiton had a scare in the last meeting in Elmbridge in early March after Lily Owsley put Hampstead ahead, but a brace from Giselle Ansley and a goal from Darcy Bourne earned Surbiton a 3-1 win.
The second semi-final sees Clifton Robinsons, who found some excellent form in Pool B to qualify for the finals for the first time since 2014-15 take on East Grinstead, who lost at the semi-final stage in 2017, 2018 and 2019 at 3 pm.
Both league matches this season were drawn, 1-1 in Bristol in October and 2-2 in West Sussex in February.
Old Georgians, who have been the in-form team over the last two seasons, and together with Surbiton Ladies have at least earned the second European place after finishing top of the Premier Division after the 16 game programme, meet Wimbledon in the first Men's semi-final at 5 pm. Wimbledon return to Sugden Road after just missing out on a bonus point via a shootout following an enthralling 4-4 draw in the last round of Pool B matches last weekend, having last played in the playoffs in 2017-18, when they lost to Hampstead in the semi-finals.
This will be Old Georgians' first opportunity to take part in the playoffs since their promotion to the Premier Division and they go into the match having just dropped points to Hampstead this season in a 2-2 draw in October. Both meetings against Wimbledon were hosted by Old Georgians who ran out 4-2 winners in November and 3-1 in early March.
The final game of the day sees Surbiton Men face Holcombe at 7 pm. The teams have met once before in the Championships in 2017 when Surbiton won 3-2 at Lee Valley in the semi-final. 3-2 was also the score when Holcombe last visited Sugden Road in February, Tim Nurse, Gareth Furlong and Luke Taylor scoring for Surbiton, Phil Roper and Nick Bandurak bringing Holcombe level at 2-2 from 2-0 down before Taylor struck the late winner.
The teams also met at Holcombe Park on the opening day of the season, when Tom Russell put Holcombe ahead, Alex Williams and Taylor gave Surbiton a 2-1 lead before Roper earned a point in a 2-2 draw.
Information about how to buy tickets and the venue can be found at the England Hockey website here
If you can't get to Sugden Road, the games are being streamed on England Hockey TV for £3.99. More information can be found here
Finally, both sets of playoffs can be followed in real time via England Hockey Altius here