Top four talk Finals Weekend

Glenn Kirkham East Grinstead NOW Pensions Men's Hockey League 2013-14

The weekend of 5-6 April will see the top four teams in the NOW: Pensions Men’s Premier league battling it out in the end of season NOW: Pensions Men's Hockey League Finals Weekend.

It's been a season of twists and turns with Surbiton finally seeing off a spirited challenge from Wimbledon to secure the final Finals Weekend place within the last couple of weeks. With one game to go, we are still unsure of the order the teams will finish in the league and therefore unsure of who will play who in the semi-finals, but make no mistake, whichever ties the draw throws up the games will be ones you will not want to miss.

East Grinstead are back in the Finals Weekend after missing out completely last year after finishing fifth. Captain Glenn Kirkham told England Hockey it has given them a new found determination: “I think we had a little bit of complacency in the squad. We had done really well over the previous five or six years so it was taken for granted that we’d qualify for Europe. The year after London quite a few players perhaps took their eye off the ball. We had some rebuilding to do as well, players left and the new players took some time to bed in.” he added: “The players we’ve brought in, like Andy Bull and David Condon were playing at sides that haven’t had the chance to play in Europe before so they have that hunger and desire which has pushed us on. Hopefully we’ll be able to qualify for Europe again and show everyone what we can do in the Finals Weekend.”

The Sussex side have been playing a new system this season, a sort of variant of “total hockey” which has led to them scoring 80 goals in 17 games, by far the most in the division. The system has worked well thanks in part to the excellent recruitment they carried out over the summer, adding some much needed depth to the squad that had perhaps been lacking before. With a star studded line-up including Ashley Jackson, Glenn Kirkham, Mark Gleghorne and top scorer Mark Pearn, the team from Saint Hill will take some stopping.

Beeston, currently sitting second in the league go into the Finals Weekend as defending champions and are a side anyone would fear. This season they started out in scintillating form, winning all of their opening nine games, including victories over East Grinstead, Reading and Surbiton, their Finals Weekend rivals. They have stuttered of late, due in part to a growing injury list but as Matt Taylor - Beeston’s Coach -  says, that's no excuse: “We have a few players out but that’s why we have the squad size we do, it’s up to the players that come in to step up to the mark. We’ve set out to win the league and we want to do that. We approach every game as though it’s a Finals Weekend game and I’m confident our squad is good enough to keep winning.”

In Sam Ward, Beeston have one of the league’s most potent goal threats whilst Ben Arnold, Ollie Willars and Tim Whiteman are all very talented players from the Great Britain squad. Add to that the skills and will to win of captain Adam Dixon, the Hockey Writers’ Player of the Year and it's not hard to see why they're in the running.

Reading, who won the trophy in 2011-12 with a dramatic last-gasp win over East Grinstead, are back for another tilt at the title. After finishing third last season, Charlie Seccombe will be keen to see his side do better this time around. They have fared reasonably well against their rivals, losing just twice in the six head-to-head games this season. Seccombe told England Hockey: “We’re confident going into Finals Weekend. The way the semis seem to be shaping up, hopefully we can get through and set up a return match against East Grinstead and beat them like we did a couple of years ago. Our team will be confident. We just need to make sure we’re switched on for 70 minutes and that we play to our ability, we’ll see where that leaves us.”

Reading seem to have a habit of rising to the big occasion, often performing at their best when it really matters. The big game experience of Richard and Simon Mantell, John Jackson, Richard Springham and Jonty Clarke, plus the exciting talents of Tom Carson, Darren Cheesman and Ben Boon mean they are a side who no one would dare underestimate.

That just leaves Surbiton. The team from Sugden Road ensured their passage to the Finals Weekend was secure with some good performances, including a 3-2 win over Beeston, to see off the challenge of Wimbledon. With Matt Daly, the top scorer in the league, and Alan Forsyth bagging 38 goals between them this term, Surbiton are a side who can come up with the goods in the final third and really cause teams problems. Whilst much of the attention is on their attacking play, at the back goalkeeper David Kettle has also impressed: “He’s been a really important part of the success we’ve had, a huge part in fact.” said Todd Williams, Surbiton’s Coach. “Not just because he’s a good goalkeeper, but also because he’s a very calm, composed and measured individual. He sets a really good tone in defence on and off the pitch. He’s exactly what you want in your side.”

Having finished runners up last season, Surbiton will come back one year wiser and more experienced, ready for another charge at the finals.

All four teams have very similar records in the league with East Grinstead separated by goal difference from Beeston whilst Surbiton and Reading are just two points apart. There really is little to choose between the sides. Each team has their own style and point to prove - it all comes down to who showcases their talents the most over the course of the weekend.

To see all of these games live, you'll need tickets to the NOW: Pensions Men's Hockey League Finals weekend. Advance tickets are still available, saving you up to 33% compared to on the door - visit our tickets page to book now!