England: Phase Two Begins as the Race for Europe Hots Up

As the winter break comes to a close, the Vitality Women’s and Men’s Hockey League Premier division is back in full swing. This season, the Premier division has split into two mini-leagues, the “Top Six” and the “Lower Six”, with each group having its own distinct goals and challenges.

In the Top Six, the automatic European spot race began, with teams battling it out to secure their place in the top tier of European club hockey. The competition is expected to be intense, with some of the best teams in the country fighting for the coveted spot.

Meanwhile, the teams are fighting for survival in the Lower Six and the remaining two playoff places. With just a few points separating the teams, every match is crucial, and the competition is expected to be just as intense as in the top Six.

East Grinstead’s Ellie Rayer – Image by Andy Smith

Vitality Womens Hockey League

In the match between Beeston and East Grinstead, East Grinstead travelled to the Nottingham Hockey centre and secured a 7-1 victory. Tess Howard had a hat-trick in the game, scoring in the 17th minute, 21st minute and 37th minute through a penalty corner. Laura Unsworth also contributed with a goal in the 39th and 52nd minutes. Ellie Rayer and Amelia Tait rounded off the scoring for East Grinstead, while Sophie Robinson scored the only goal of the game for Beeston with a 25th minute penalty corner.

Hampstead and Westminster left early for Coombe Dingle, where they drew 2-2 with Clifton Robinsons. Livvy Hoskins opened the scoring for Clifton Robinsons in the 9th minute (PC) before Sarah Robertson equalized for Hampstead & Westminster in the 33rd minute. Eloise Laity put the home side ahead again in the 61st minute before Anna O’Flanagan levelled the game with a penalty corner goal for Hampstead & Westminster in the 63rd minute.

In the match between Surbiton and Wimbledon, Wimbledon travelled to Surbiton and were defeated 2-1. Hannah Martin opened the scoring for Surbiton in the 5th minute, while Flora Peel equalized for Wimbledon in the 46th minute through a penalty corner. Surbiton leading goal scorer Sophie Hamilton hit the winning goal in the 52nd minute with the second penalty corner goal of the game.

Buckingham travelled to the University of Birmingham and suffered a 3-1 defeat. Lexie Clark opened the scoring for the University of Birmingham in the 29th minute before Caroline Spence equalized for Buckingham in the 60th. Izzy Lander (66) and Betsan Thomas (70) scored in quick succession for the University of Birmingham to put the game out of reach of the visitors.

The teams played to a 2-2 draw in the match between Reading and Holcombe. Lizzie Neal scored twice for Reading in the 15th and 43rd minutes, while Sofia Viarengo and Emma Bandurak scored for Holcombe in the 21st and 26th (PS). The match was closely contested, with both teams battling hard for the win, but in the end, both sides settled for their second draw of the season.

In the match between the University of Nottingham and Loughborough Students, Loughborough Students secured a 2-0 victory. Suzie Carter opened the scoring for Loughborough Students in the 17th minute, and Becca Malyon added a second goal in the 47th minute. The University of Nottingham put up a strong fight, but Loughborough Students were the better team on the day and deserved their victory.

Men’s Hockey League

The Men’s Hockey League returned with a bang this week, as six high-stakes matches took place across the country. The first match saw Wimbledon host Holcombe in a nail-biting encounter, while Old Georgians welcomed Surbiton to the lair. The third match was an exciting home game for Hampstead & Westminster, who hosted Reading, while Brooklands Manchester University travelled to Beeston. East Grinstead played host to local rivals Oxted, and the final match saw the University of Exeter welcome the University of Nottingham.

The match between Wimbledon and Holcombe was an intense battle, with both teams putting on a strong performance. However, Holcombe came out on top, securing a 3-2 victory. Holcombe’s Tom Russell and Nick Bandurak got the scoring started early on, finding the back of the net in the 6th and 7th minutes, respectively. Wimbledon tried to fight back, with Liam Ansell scoring a penalty corner goal in the 15th minute and David Condon leveling before the break, but it was the Hockey Writers’ Club Player of the Year, Nick Bandurak who added a second goal in the 41st minute to secure the win for Holcombe.

In the match between Old Georgians and Surbiton, Old Georgians proved to be the stronger team, securing a 2-1 victory. Old Georgians’ James Alberry opened the scoring in the 5th minute, but Surbiton’s Ben Park equalized in the 31st minute. The match was far from over, though, as Old Georgians’ Lee Morton scored a crucial penalty corner goal in the 47th minute to secure the win.

Hampstead & Westminster put on a dominant display in their match against Reading, securing a 5-0 victory. Hampstead & Westminster’s Stephen Kelly had a fantastic game, scoring two goals in the 20th and 47th minutes. Joe Hillyer, Toby Vaughan (45th minute, PC), and Jolyon Morgan also got in on the action, scoring in the 23rd, 45th (PC), and 49th minutes respectively.

The match between Brooklands Manchester University and Beeston was a thrilling encounter, with Beeston coming out on top with a 4-3 victory. Beeston’s George Fletcher and Henry Croft started the scoring, finding the back of the net in the 7th and 44th minutes, respectively. Brooklands Manchester University tried to fight back, with Ben Wallace (33rd minute, PC), Richard Slater (38th and 42nd minutes), and Jamie Golden (60th minute, PC) all scoring, but it was not enough to secure the win.

East Grinstead and Oxted played to a 2-2 draw in their match, with both teams putting on a solid performance. Oxted’s Jonny Lankfer and East Grinstead’s Fin Boothroyd started the scoring early, finding the back of the net in the 3rd and 6th minutes, respectively. East Grinstead took the lead, with Tom Crowson scoring a penalty corner goal in the 23rd minute before Jonny Lankfer added a penalty corner goal for Oxted in the 63rd minute.

The day’s final match saw the University of Exeter secure a 3-2 victory over the University of Nottingham. The University of Exeter’s Ben Fox, Jake Phillips, and Lewis Wilcher all found the back of the net in the 40th, 47th, and 69th minutes respectively, while the University of Nottingham’s Charlie Axford and Conor Williamson (67th minute, PC) tried to mount a comeback. However, it was not enough to secure the win, and the University of Exeter came out on top.

These results set the tone for what promises to be an exciting and competitive season in the Vitality Women’s Hockey League and Men’s Hockey League Premier divisions. With the top teams fighting for the European spot and the lower teams battling for survival, the drama and excitement will continue to unfold in the coming weeks.

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