Scotland: Big games with gaps opening at the top of the Premierships

Some daylight is beginning to emerge at the top of the Premierships after a handful of games. In the men`s Grange, Edinburgh University and Western Wildcats are at least five points ahead of the chasing pack. And it is same in the women`s with Watsonians and Wildcats opening up a similar gap.

The Wildcats are purring along nicely after five games in the women’s Premiership – five comfortable wins is their perfect record – and they share pole position with Watsonians.

And the Cats’ statistics are also impressive, 26 goals scored and only one conceded – the sign of a successful side is one that scores lots of goals and has a stingy defence.

Lexi Sabatelli, Lucy MacMillan, Alex Stuart and Rachel Bain have all been on target from time to time, but it is Emma McDiarmid who is out in front with seven goals so far this season including a hat-trick last weekend against Gordonians.

We asked player/coach Kaz Cuthbert what was the secret. Her answer was relatively simple. “The secret is a really motivated and cohesive team, with one goal we are working to and that is to win the league this season.”

But it is Edinburgh University who are calling in at Auchenhowie on Saturday and that will test the Cats` resolve. The Auchenhowie side made third place their own last season but did not really trouble the top two, finishing nine points behind both. There was a green shoot, however, when Kaz Cuthbert`s charges held Watsonians to a 1-1 draw – that is something to build on.

However, Kaz is not to be drawn on the important of Saturday`s game, instead she said: “We look forward to every game no matter who we play, so this weekend is another opportunity to go out and smash it again like we`ve been doing.”

Edinburgh University lie fourth in the table at the moment, having dropped five points, but the students are still a force to be reckoned with. The Cats` defence will definitely have to look out for Edinburgh`s striker Jika Nyirenda, she has scored in every game so far with seven in total including last weekend`s late winner against GHK. If Sam Judge`s youngsters are to make an impact on this season`s competition three points at Auchenhowie is essential.

Wildcats share top spot with Watsonians on 15 points, and are now only three goals behind, and the champions are at home to an Uddingston side that have moved into the top six with three wins from their four games. The Lanarkshire side have shown greater consistency under new coach Gareth Ikin, but whether they can stem the free-scoring style of Watsonians might be another matter.

Keith Smith`s side have rattled in 33 goals so far this season, Sarah Jamieson leads the sharpshooters with nine but Emily Dark, Ailsa Small, Katherine Holdgate and Milly Berndes-Cade have also made significant contributions. Despite the Uddy renaissance it is difficult to see the champions stumbling on Saturday.

The Grange surprise packet could well continue this weekend as they host Glasgow University in Edinburgh. Clydesdale Western`s revival could also be extended as they visit a Hillhead side that have yet to kick-start their season.

Elsewhere, there could be opening wins for GHK and Inverleith as they host St Andrews University and Gordonians respectively.

In the men`s Premiership leaders Grange could open up a six point lead with a Friday night should they win over neighbours Inverleith – although that lead might last less than 24 hours.

There is a feeling in the Grange camp, as expressed by manager Martin Shepherdson, that it is only a matter of time before they start converting their many scoring chances into actual goals – that may materialise on Friday evening!

One player who might be excused from profligation is Jamie Green, the Clydesdale import has scored in every game apart from the opener and he has clearly been an asset to the Premiership holders.

Inverleith have made a steady start to the season, in seventh spot with six points from as many games, and that considering they have played both Western and Edinburgh University, but will they stem the Grange win ethic?

But it is Hamish Imrie`s Edinburgh University that are catching the eye at the moment with their goal scoring exploits, another six on Saturday against ESM, and it could be that Watsonians will feel the impact of another students` barrage this weekend. In fact their average is almost six a game.

Watsonians have had a frustrating start to the season but last Saturday`s 3-2 win over Uddingston has provided a lift…all the way up to fourth on goal difference from Clydesdale.

FSEG Clydesdale have also had a frustrating time – last weekend it took the last hit of the game to draw level at 4-4 against Inverleith on Saturday, and the following day the Titwood-based outfit were drawing 1-1 against Western only to lost three goals without reply in the second half. On Saturday Ciaran Crawford`s charges entertain ESM at Titwood and three points here is a must if they have top six aspirations.

Although in ninth spot ESM are in fact only two points adrift of Clydesdale so a home win is by no means a certainty.

Western Wildcats certainly did not suffer from any form of EHL hangover, last weekend they had back to back wins over Dundee Wanderers and Clydesdale to consolidate third spot in the table. On Saturday they are away to Uddingston and will be out to take the points.

Uddingston`s season so far has been a bit up and down but new coach Tom Hyndman will have been disappointed to lose last weekend`s game against Watsonians with an overtime penalty corner conversion by under-18 Keir Urquhart.

The Hillhead v Grove Menzieshill clash could be a close affair, the former have recovered from a poor start with wins in their last two outings while the Taysiders have slowly gathered points with a win and two draws.

Dundee Wanderers have Kelburne as the visitors in what is at the moment a bottom of the table clash. It has not been a good start for either, the Taysiders lead by a single point but both sides have only one victory apiece and an identical goal difference.

by Scotland Hockey

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