L1 Clinch Top Place Finish Over Double Victory Weekend
By Colin Pike
Surbiton Ladies celebrated their fifth top placed finish in six years in the Investec Women's Hockey League Premier Division with a 2-1 come from behind win over Holcombe at Sugden Road on Sunday afternoon.
Hampstead & Westminster's 2-1 defeat at East Grinstead leaves Surbiton, twelve points ahead with three games to play and ensures that Surbiton will at least qualify for Europe as England's second ranked team.
To seal the top ranking, Surbiton will need to defend their title and win the playoffs for the seventh successive year.
Holcombe came to Elmbridge having lost five of their last six games, but stunned the reigning champions by taking the lead after just 41 seconds thanks to Lorna Jane Cruickshank's angled shot, Surbiton's hopes of a first clean sheet since 12 October evaporating instantly.
After the game began under murky skies, the sun came out to allow the match to be played in pleasant conditions, a far cry from recent experiences.
Surbiton had to wait until the 24th minute to find the equaliser, which came from a brilliant moment of skill from Jenna Woolven, moving towards goal from the right before slipping the ball under Holcombe goalkeeper, Rose Thomas.
Five minutes before half time, Surbiton came close to taking the lead, but Erica Sanders rattled the crossbar with her shot leaving Surbiton to have to settle for honours even at half time.
The winning goal, three minutes after half time came after Sarah Evans attacked down the right and crossed for Alice Sharp to slip the ball past Thomas.
Once more, Hannah Martin was an attacking threat but Leah Wilkinson and on one occasion, Alice Wills and Beth Bingham combined to thwart the skilful forward.
The players sometimes had problems with their passing making unforced errors to lose possession or misjudging the speed and direction of pass, Eloise Stenner just failing to latch onto a pass from Sanders towards the end of the third quarter.
Holcombe's Heather MacEwan attacked down the right and Emma Trunks orchestrated attacking moves from the back but although Surbiton had a few close calls with shots just going wide or across goal, Surbiton frequently managed to mount a counter attack.
Trailing 2-1, Holcombe always had hope of snatching at least a point, but the final whistle all but ended their hopes of qualifying for the playoffs a season after topping the league table at the end of the regular season.
East Grinstead closed to within a point of second placed Hampstead courtesy of their home win, whilst Buckingham cemented fourth spot with a 3-2 win at Clifton Robinsons.
Buckingham hold a six point lead over fifth placed Loughborough. who lost to a resurgent University of Birmingham 3-1.
Bowdon Hightown slipped into further relegation trouble and now have serious fears of losing their ever present record as members of the IWHL Premier Division after a 3-2 defeat at Beeston leaves them five points adrift of ninth placed Birmingham and six behind Beeston.
Bowdon host Birmingham in a vital match next Saturday (29 February).
Surbiton travel to Hampstead & Westminster on Leap Year's Day with the push back at 1.30 pm.