Vitality Women’s Hockey League Preview – 2 October 2021
Hampstead & Westminster, the only team to win their first two matches of the season, travel to Clifton Robinsons on Saturday to face a team which has drawn both games so far, 2-2 at home to Surbiton and 1-1 at Buckingham.
Hampstead ended East Grinstead’s 22 game unbeaten run with a 3-2 win at Paddington Recreation Ground last weekend, goalkeeper Rochelle Gianfrancesco saving Ellie Rayer’s late penalty stroke to foil the West Sussex’s club’s attempt to salvage a point after trailing 3-0 with just four minutes to play.
Clifton were the first team to beat Hampstead in a Premier Division game in October 2019, snatching a 5-4 win after Claire Thomas (now Jones) scored a last minute penalty stroke, so Hampstead will be looking for a first win in Bristol.
Second placed Surbiton and third placed East Grinstead are both away in Europe. Surbiton are in the EHL Ranking Cup in Hamburg, where they will face the winner of the only semi-final between HC Minsk (Belarus) and hosts, UHC Hamburg, in the final after Surbiton’s scheduled semi-final opponents, Pegasus, withdrew. East Grinstead face four games in four days in Lille, France in the EuroHockey Club Trophy, and got off to a bad start, crashing 8-1 to Gantoise of Belgium, Sophie Bray scoring their only goal.
Fourth placed Beeston are also without a match as it is their turn to have the bye week.
Like Clifton, Buckingham also drew their first two games, having started the season with a 1-1 draw at Swansea. They take on a Loughborough Students squad still coming to terms with the shock of losing respected coach Andy Gibson in a tragic accident. Loughborough lost 4-1 at East Grinstead on the opening day and will want to kickstart their season with a win.
Seventh plays eighth and ninth plays tenth in the fledgling league table. University of Birmingham host Swansea in the national league for the first time since 2008-09 when they met in the Conference West and Birmingham won both matches 5-0. Birmingham won promotion via the Promotion Tournament and have been in the Premier Division ever since, whilst Swansea had to wait until the Conferences were replaced by Division One North and South as the second tier of domestic hockey, winning Division One North due to a geographic anomaly and being promoted automatically after the 2019-20 season was ended after 17 regular season matches.
Ninth placed Holcombe travel to Wimbledon, who lost their only match so far, 3-1 at Hampstead. Holcombe lost 2-1 at Beeston and drew 2-2 at Birmingham, with both teams aiming to move up the table as soon as possible. The teams met last season at Holcombe Park, where Wimbledon won 2-1, whilst on their way to the 2013-14 Conference East title, Holcombe won 2-1 at Wimbledon and have stayed in the Premier Division and also qualified for Europe in the past.