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Play off Saturday: huge matches ahead of Sunday’s Grand Finals

04 May 2017

The league and cup competitions are done and dusted - Bromac Kelburne (men) and Edinburgh University (women) have already completed their respective doubles - now it is places in Europe for next season that are up for grabs and the same two sides are out to try and take the treble at the Grand Finals at the Glasgow National Hockey Centre on Sunday.

At the other end of the spectrum this weekend also sees the relegation play-offs with the losing sides over the two days consigned to National League 2 competition next season.

There is no doubting Gordon Shepherd`s determination for the top European spot for Kelburne. "It`s very important for us to be competing in the EHL," said Shepherd. "It`s nice to already have a European place, but we want the top place."

But it is a tough weekend`s action for Shepherd`s charges, they take on Western Wildcats on Saturday, and if victorious the Paisley side will be up against the winner of the Grange and Grove Menzieshill confrontation.

On paper the Wildcats` tussle may seem a good one for Kelburne, the league results were 4-0 and 4-1 in favour of the champions, but Harry Dunlop`s young pack had an impressive end to the season, a fact recognised by Shepherd.

"I`m confident we can win the two games but respect will be given to the Wildcats, firstly they have been playing well in the second half of the season, and secondly they have proved that they can not only compete with but beat the top teams in the league."Western Wildcats Perthshire m semis

It was the Wildcats` recent 3-2 win over Grange that put paid to the Edinburgh side`s league aspirations - proving they are a side that can upset the odds.

Wildcats also finished the season with some silverware, last weekend they won the Plate competition with a convincing 4-1 win over Watsonians.

While the Wildcats have finished off the season`s activities with some style, it is still difficult to offset the Kelburne bandwagon.

The champions were back in swashbuckling form in last weekend`s Scottish Cup final, after an initial sticky spell they swept Grange aside with a well-deserved 5-2 win.

Shepherd said: "I was delighted with the way the team played on Saturday to complete the double, but that is now history and it`s all about what`s ahead of us that matters."

Grange`s tussles with Grove Menzieshill this season have resembled the tales of the unexpected, and so the outcome of this weekend`s semi-final remains a little unclear.

Kelburne Grange final 2017

The Taysiders dominated the first league encounter and strolled into a commanding three-goal lead, only to allow Grange back into the contest and grab a 3-3 draw in the final ten minutes.

Grange were the more purposeful side in the return league fixture, a double by Luke Cranney and others by Greg Hopkinson and Callum Milne from the spot provided a 4-1 win.

It was certainly no contest in the cup semi-final as the Edinburgh side romped to an astounding 8-1 victory.

However, that is all history now, what perhaps matters more is how Grange will recover from their league and cup reversal. If David Knipe`s charges are still off colour, Grove Menzieshill are just the side to take advantage.

After all, that is precisely what happened last year, the Taysiders made it to the final and secured their place in Europe, and that at the expense of Grange.

Edin Uni Clydesdale w 2017 final

Edinburgh University will be anxious to grasp the top women`s European spot this year having lost out to an Ailsa Wyllie goal against Grove Menzieshill twelve months ago.

Sam Judge`s successful outfit are up against fourth placed Wildcats at home on Saturday and must be considered favourites to progress to Sunday`s final.

However, the champions were held to a 1-1 draw at Auchenhowie early in the season, and only a very late penalty corner strike by Judge saved their blushes.

However, the return was a bit more emphatic, Edinburgh won 4-1 at Peffermill, Judge scored twice while Ellie Hutcheson and Louise Campbell got the others.

Although the students only won the league on the last day of the campaign and won the Scottish Cup by 2-1, they have been the most consistent team over the season, only defeated on one occasion. It would therefore be a major upset if they did not complete the treble.

In contrast, the other semi-final between Milne Craig Clydesdale Western and Grove Menzieshill is anybody`s guess - there seems little to choose between the sides.

League form confirms that, in the closing weeks of the campaign the Taysiders were well in command to win the opening tussle 4-1, but Western retaliated with a 4-2 victory the following weekend.

The fact that Western secured second spot by a single point is of no real relevance any more, it is the direct clash between the sides on Saturday that will decide which team plays in Europe next season.Grove v Kelb w

The scenario at this weekend`s relegation play-offs is fairly straightforward, three sides will survive to play in the top flight next season, while the losing team will join Gordonians in division two.

The men’s clash between Watsonians and Clydesdale is an intriguing occasion, the former started the campaign brightly then fell away, while the latter only really picked up some form in the closing couple of weeks of the campaign.

The recent head-to-head certainly gives little away, it finished a goalless draw at Titwood.

The other semi-final confrontation brings together Inverleith, a side used to the win ethic in the lower ranks, and Hillhead who only won one of their final 11 games in the first division.

But Stuart Neave, Inverleith`s coach, is too long in the tooth to take anything for granted, in reality the reverse.

"Given how competitive it was at the bottom of National League 1 at the end of the season, any play-off game is going to be closely contested," Neave said.

"Our immediate task is Saturday's game against Hillhead and we will be focusing on improving our performance, especially against more challenging opposition."Hillhead v Uddingston men

Inverleith lost out on automatic promotion to Dundee Wanderers, but their statistics are nonetheless impressive, 16 wins out of 20 games and 135 goals in the process.

The losers of the semi-finals still have a chance of avoiding the drop in Sunday`s final play-off match.

In the women`s relegation contest it is Grange that have emerged from the second division and they are up against a Kelburne side that finished their league campaign with three victories in the last six games. This could be a tough call for the aspiring Edinburgh side. But is a match that is sure to bring drama to an already tight play-off Saturday.

The other semi-final brings together Erskine Stewart`s Melville and Hillhead, with the former perhaps the favourites for this one. The Edinburgh side finished six points ahead of Hillhead in the table and also won both head to heads 4-1.

Photos by Duncan Gray and Mark Pugh

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