Scotland: Wildcats at the EHL and Premiership action at home

There is a plethora of hockey this weekend – two women’s Premiership games on Friday evening, Western Wildcats in Barcelona on EHL duty, and nine Premiership games on Saturday – a busy few days in store.

It’s a contrasting venture for Wildcats in Barcelona, on Saturday they take on Czech champions TJ Plzen-Litice who are on their EHL debut, then on Sunday have the daunting assignment of either Bloemendaal or SV Kampong – both crack Dutch outfits.

This is how Wildcats coach Steven Percy assessed the situation: “The first game will be quite competitive, so it`s all about putting in a strong performance and aiming to get a win on the board. The second match will be very difficult, one of two top Dutch teams, so we`ll aim to be as competitive as we can and to learn as much as possible from that experience.”

Steven is right to regard the Plzen-Litice game as “quite competitive”, they are the current Czech champions and have won their opening four games this season, and scoring 26 goals in the process. But a victory here would be Wildcats first in the EHL and would earn Scotland some extremely valuable ranking points on the road to getting two clubs in future tournaments.

Wildcats have a good balance to their line-up, the EHL experience of Jonny Christie and keeper Gavin Sommerville along with Callum Duke with over 100 Scotland caps but also the talent of the likes of captain Rob Harwood, Fraser Moran, Jack MacKenzie, Andrew McAllister, and others.

But Steven Percy confirmed that the squad would be without Hamish Galt who is unavailable and the injured AJ Lochrin. Ironically former Western striker Andy McConnell will be in Barcelona…but playing for his new club Harvestehuder.

Rob Harwood summed up the feeling in the squad by stating that his side is “hungrier than ever” to land a first ever win in the EHL, hoping to use the lessons learned a year ago in Hamburg.

Last year the Wildcats lost substantially to German Bundesliga side Harvestehuder but were holding Spain`s Club Egara to a 1-1 draw in the ranking game only to lose two late goals and the match.

And so back home…and to Uddingston.

Uddingston have a phenomenal reputation for youth development and community involvement, and recently won the EuroHockey Club of the Year award.

But what about on the pitch? Over the recent years the Lanarkshire club (both men and women) have been regulars in the Premiership but rarely in the top six.

Could that be changing? After only a few games this season both Uddy men and women are in the top six with two wins each – but can they stay there?

We spoke to Tom Hyndman who has just taken over as the men`s coach, and this is what he had to say: “Initial thoughts during pre-season was we`d be happy finishing in the top six, however with the addition of a few new players I`m hoping to be competing for places above that. The squad improves week on week and hoping that continues.”

However, on Saturday his charges confront free-scoring Edinburgh University.

Tom remarked: “We hope to play as we have for our first four games and take the game to our opposition. We have a young squad and hope to match fitness with the university team.”

But the Uddy defence will have to stem the goal flow from the students who have scored 23 goals in their four matches so far – good shooting! In addition, they will have to keep special tabs on Keir Robb who has notched eight goals in his last two outings.

Uddingston women are in similar vein, they are fifth after three games and are at home to Glasgow University on Saturday. So new coach Gareth Ikin may fancy his chances of a home win, especially with Lexi MacMillan popping in a few goals.

Meanwhile Watsonians and Wildcats are neck and neck in the women`s premiership – both with perfect records after three games – so will either falter this weekend?

The Cats are first up on Friday evening against Clydesdale Western at Auchenhowie, potentially the home side`s first real test of their staying power this season. So far the Cats have been purring along nicely with comfortable wins over GHK, Hillhead and Inverleith. In the process they have notched up 14 goals with Emma McDiarmid, Lexi Sabatelli, Alex Stuart and Kaz Cuthbert the main strikers.

In contrast Clydesdale have made a cautious start to the campaign, a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Watsonians followed by a single goal victory at Grange, so it`s difficult to know how Mark Ralph`s season is going to pan out – Friday night might give up some more hints.

In contrast Watsonians are at home to newly promoted St Andrews University and the champions will look to not falter here.

Also on Friday third placed Grange are at home to Edinburgh University – on paper this could be close as both sit on six points. Grange have had some high scoring affairs, Heather scored four against Inverleith and Hanna McKie got five against Gordonians, but the students` defence is unlikely to yield such opportunities.

The Edinburgh students lost narrowly to Watsonians two weeks ago, so coach Sam Judge will be anxious to get the win ethic rolling again.

GHK and Hillhead are in the bottom half of the league where they don`t want to be – although both have only two game so far. The former are at home to a Gordonians side that are currently leaking goals while the latter take on Inverleith who have only a single point after three games. Home wins are essential if both Glasgow sides are to progress up the table.

Grange may not be winning in grand style but they have ground out twelve points in their four games so far – so it is mission accomplished so far. Their 2-1 win at Auchenhowie last weekend was a really good result for Stevie Grubb`s charges. So also is the form of Jamie Green, their new signing from Clydesdale, he has scored in his last three games and seems to be settling in well at the Edinburgh side.

Grange will aim to continue their winning ways against Kelburne although the latter produced a bit of a big result with a 4-3 win over Clydesdale last Saturday and so should not be underestimated.

So what of Clydesdale…coach Ciaran Crawford will simply want to put the Kelburne reversal behind him and march on to another three points against Grove Menzieshill at Titwood. Perhaps not as easy as it may look, the Taysiders are only a point behind and have only lost one game – 4-0 to Edinburgh University. With Gavin Byers at the coaching helm newly promoted Grove Menzieshill are determined to make their mark in the top flight. So this could be a close encounter.

The all-Edinburgh clash between ESM and Inverleith could be another close encounter, the sides are on the same points and are separated by only two goals. Not easy to predict this one – although Inverleith`s set piece expert Charlie Jack could be an influencing factor.

Watsonians frustrating season continues, only one win out of four, and last weekend`s 4-3 home defeat by Hillhead epitomised the frustration. However, it could all take an upward turn if they can take the three points from their away match at Dundee Wanderers. Apart from a home win over Hillhead Wanderers have struggled a bit to find the pace and last weekend were not at the races against five-goal Uddingston. So perhaps encouraging news for the Edinburgh side, but Wanderers in Dundee is a tough assignment.

by Scotland Hockey

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