Premiership pole positions and top six places up for grabs this weekend
It’s an exciting weekend in prospect. The top sides in both the men`s and women`s Premiership are in action against each other and there may be some shuffling in the top echelons. But also there is the struggle to gain one of the top six slots for the second half of the season – and that is hotting up!
It`s time to look at the premiership`s top dogs and find out what makes them tick, and are they under a bit more scrutiny this weekend?
Both Watsonians women and Grange men sit resplendent in pole position in their respective leagues, with perfect records and piles of goals to their credit.
Certainly Keith Smith`s charges only won their early games against Clydesdale Western and Edinburgh University by a single goal, but since then have piled in the goals reaching double figures on some occasions.
But has the season been as satisfying as the results in themselves would suggest?
We asked Keith that very question. “We`ve played pretty well at times this season, but I think we can be more ruthless and deliberate more often, and be more consistent generally.
“I`m not sure if we`ll ever be wholly happy though, there`s always something that can be improved. But that`s not a bad thing – trying to be better than you were yesterday is one of the most enjoyable parts of sport.”
On Saturday it is Grange`s turn to see if they can put a dent or two in the Watsonians bandwagon. Grange have been a revelation – they lie fourth in the table with four wins, two draws and only one defeat in seven outings.
So what does Keith think of this Saturday`s match?
“Our game against Grange last year was a sticky one, and I think they were unlucky not to earn a spot in the top six in the end. Since then they`ve recruited well and added more depth and experience, and their results against Edinburgh Uni and others have proved how dangerous they can be.”
Grange men are in a similar position and last Saturday`s nine goal demolition of Clydesdale would suggest that they are getting close to a peak. But what does manager Martin Shepherdson think of his side`s performance so far?
Martin remarked: “Obviously we are happy with results so far. But importantly we are seeing our performances improve over the last few weeks. We are still not where we want to be in terms of consistency but we do play good hockey at times.”
Grange have certainly been rattling in the goals in recent weeks, 22 in the last three outings with several players pitching in – but mainly Aidan McQuade at penalty corners along with open play strikers Jamie Green, Dylan Bean, Alan Johnston and youngster Archie Stephen.
So what about Edinburgh University on Saturday? It`s the classic game-of-the-day scenario – 1 v 2 in the table. It`s far from a league decider as there are still six games to go thereafter.
The Edinburgh students have won most of their games with a fair amount of ease. Last Saturday`s 6-4 win over Western was probably their finest hour so far in the bid to top the table at the end of the season. Now they must repeat that level of performance against Grange this weekend.
So what does Martin Shepherdson think of the university challenge ahead. “Edinburgh Uni do provide a real test. They are quick, fit and relentless on the pitch – and they have a real goal scoring threat. That said, our defence has been improving, and with clean sheets in the last few games, we are confident we can be really competitive in what should be a cracking match.”
So moving down the table – the race for a top six places in the men`s competition is reaching its denouement with two weekends left.
Grange, Edinburgh University and Western Wildcats are already there, but only three points separates the next five sides for the remaining three spots.
Three points now are worth their weight in gold, and that will be the case as Inverleith and Uddingston, both on twelve points clash in Edinburgh. So it is difficult to predict the outcome. However, both are on a wee bit of a roll with victories in their last two outings.
It is a similar scenario as FSEG Clydesdale and Hillhead meet at Titwood. The home side are two points adrift of their visitors but have a game in hand at home against Grove Menzieshill next weekend. Both sides here have had their bouts of inconsistency, so predicting this one also is far from easy.
So that leaves Watsonians, who are a point ahead of the chasing pack and could consolidate their top six status with a win over a Grove Menzieshill side that have lost their last four games.
Elsewhere, Western Wildcats will hope to recover from last weekend`s defeat at the hands of the Edinburgh students, with the three points at Kelburne to keep up the pressure on the top two.
ESM have the chance to move off second bottom spot with a home win over Dundee Wanderers who are only a couple of points ahead of them. The Edinburgh side looked dead and buried this time last season but then made a remarkable recovery after the winter break, and even reached the Scottish Cup final.
The women`s competition is two games behind the men – so there’s perhaps more to play for right now.
It’s an important weekend for Clydesdale Western, on Saturday they host third placed Edinburgh University, and then GHK the following day. Mark Ralph`s charges have moved up the table to fifth courtesy of three successive wins against teams in the lower echelons, but this weekend`s double header could confirm, or otherwise, the substance of this recovery.
But Clydesdale have players who can score goals – the likes of Heather Howie, who notched a hat-trick last Saturday against Gordonians, Millie Steiger, Bronwyn Shields and Ali Howie.
Edinburgh have been rolling in the goals recently with Ava Smith and Jika Nyirenda foremost, but Sam Judge`s side will need to continue that trend if they are to keep in touch at the top.
And GHK on Sunday will also be a challenge for Clydesdale. Fiona Semple`s charges have motored up the table to sixth following a trio of wins, and the goals are beginning to flow – 17 in the last two games with Lucy Williamson and Joanne Boyle being the main contributors.
So it`s going to be a challenging weekend at Titwood.
GHK share the ten point slot with Uddingston, the former with a much better goal difference, and the sides meet at Old Anniesland on Saturday – sixth place or better is the prize for the winner.
On paper, second placed Wildcats would hope to retain their status at home to Glasgow University – but the Wildcats came a cropper against the students in a midweek tussle last season.
Hillhead have had a disappointing start to this season with no points from six outings. However, that could all change for the Upper Windyedge club with a home double header against bottom side Gordonians and then Inverleith who are only a point ahead of them. Six points would lift Hillhead out of the bottom rungs.
Finally, Premiership novices St Andrews University have established a mid-table status with a couple of wins and could move closer to the top six with another three points at Inverleith.
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