Canterbury plot the great escape

Canterbury's James Oates in action during last season's play-offs. Credit Simon Parker - 450

Relegation-threatened Canterbury host unbeaten leaders Wimbledon on Sunday as they bid to escape from the drop in the Men’s Hockey League Premier Division.

Currently ninth, Canterbury will once again have to battle against the three Conference winners to preserve their top-flight status if they can’t climb up to eighth.

“This Sunday’s game is hugely important for us,” said Canterbury’s Manager Gary Wyver. “We go into the game unbeaten in three matches so have hit some good form at the right time.

“In the first match at Wimbledon we put in a good first half and led twice so we know we can compete against them. Going forward we need some of our younger players to raise their game to another level as we look to pinch points on Sunday, and then against East Grinstead to hopefully take our hopes of avoiding the play-offs to a final game decider against Brooklands at home.

“We don’t want to think about play-offs yet but if it happens we will be ready. It will be interesting to see who will top of the South and West conferences. It looks as though they could both go down to the wire.”

Elsewhere, eighth-placed Brooklands Manchester University go to Beeston as they aim to keep Canterbury at bay. But Beeston are also desperate for points to continue their push for a play-off spot.

Hampstead and Westminster are currently fourth, and could clinch a place at Finals Weekend if they can win at Reading.

Bottom of the table Loughborough Students face a tough trip to high-flying Surbiton, while Holcombe head to East Grinstead aiming for a repeat of the 2-0 win they secured earlier in the season.

Leaders Cardiff and Met could wrap up the Men’s Conference West title this weekend as they face second-placed Team Bath Buccaneers. But a win for Team Bath will narrow the gap to just two points, and leave the title race wide open. And Cardiff and Met are missing a number of players who are in action at the World League round two in Belfast which starts this weekend.

It’s still tight at the top of the Men’s Conference East, with Teddington and Sevenoaks level on points. Leaders Teddington face a home game against third-placed Southgate this Saturday, while Sevenoaks go to West Herts.

And in the Conference North, all eyes are on the battle to avoid relegation. Bottom club Leek go to Doncaster, while ninth-placed Oxton have a tough match at Conference winners University of Durham.

Cannock are not safe yet either, and go to Deeside Ramblers, while Sheffield Hallam head to Bowdon desperate for points to avoid dropping down the table.

* The above photograph shows Canterbury’s James Oates in action during last season’s play-offs. Credit: Simon Parker.

FIXTURES – Sunday, March 12

Men’s Hockey League

Men’s Premier Division
Canterbury v Wimbledon 12:45
Surbiton v Loughborough Students 14:00
Beeston v Brooklands MU 14:00
East Grinstead v Holcombe 14:00
Reading v Hampstead and Westminster 14:30

Men’s Conference East
Cambridge City v Indian Gymkhana 12:30
Oxted v Wapping 12:45
Richmond v Brighton and Hove 13:30
Teddington v Southgate 13:30
West Herts v Sevenoaks 14:00

Men’s Conference North
Deeside Ramblers v Cannock 13:30
Olton & West Warwicks v Preston 13:30
Univ of Durham v Oxton 14:00
Doncaster v Leek 14:00
Bowdon v Sheffield Hallam 14:30

Men’s Conference West
Chichester v Cheltenham 12:15
Univ of Exeter v Isca 12:30
Cardiff & Met v Team Bath Buccaneers 12:30
Univ of Bristol v Univ of Birmingham 13:00
Fareham v Old Georgians 13:30