Double defeat for Holcombe
Double defeat for Holcombe

After such a long wait, the Vitality Women’s and Men’s Premier Division returned in spectacular fashion at the weekend with plenty of exciting games contested, but it was defeat for both of Holcombe’s sides.

Having sat top of the table when the 2020/21 season was cancelled, East Grinstead’s women started with an impressive victory over Loughborough Students, while Surbiton’s men came from behind to defeat Holcombe in a thrilling game that included ten goals. Hampstead & Westminster also pulled off an impressive double over Wimbledon across two hotly contested matches.

East Grinstead resumed where they left off last year as they won their opening game of the 2021/22 Vitality Women’s Premier Division.

The team from West Sussex were sitting top of the league – having won five games and drawn one – when last year’s campaign was curtailed due to Covid-19 and they carried on that fine form as they beat Loughborough Students 4-1. Sophie Bray found the net twice for East Grinstead to give them a two goal advantage heading into half-time before Autumn Bowden and Tokyo 2020 Olympic bronze medallist Ellie Rayer got their names on the scoresheet in the third quarter. Lorna Mackenzie pulled one back for Loughborough with four minutes remaining to add a slight blemish onto what was an otherwise perfect start for East Grinstead.

Two more Olympic medallists started the domestic season in fine style as Sarah Robertson and Sarah Jones scored for Hampstead & Westminster and Wimbledon respectively in their London derby. Robertson’s strike game Hampstead the lead in the eighth minute before Jones levelled proceedings five minutes later. Lauren Turner then put a Hampstead side also boasting Grace Balsdon back into the lead before Esme Burge scored to give the team a 3-1 victory over a Wimbledon team that included fellow Olympian Fiona Crackles.

Beeston also picked up three points in their opening game as they came from behind to beat Holcombe 2-1 at the Nottingham Hockey Centre. Holcombe took the lead early on courtesy of a field goal from Candice Manuel before Nadia Benallal levelled proceedings shortly after. A closely fought affair ensued before Beeston took victory with less than two minutes remaining as new signing Lucy Millington capped off her debut for the club in fine style by dispatching a penalty stroke.  

Seven-time champions Surbiton were held to a 2-2 draw by Clifton Robinsons in an absorbing game at Coombe Dingle. After a slightly delayed start due to traffic on the M4, Alice Wills opened the scoring for Surbiton in the sixth minute before Catherine Macauley equalised for the hosts early into the second quarter. Macauley was then on target again shortly before half-time to hand Clifton the lead going into the break, only for Eloise Stenner to equalise for Surbiton just a few minutes into the second half.

The day’s other game saw Buckingham and Swansea play out a 1-1 draw in the Welsh city. Jessica Roe handed Swansea – who are competing in their first full Premier Division season following last year’s cancellation – the lead in the 11th minute before Natasha James equalised in the second half to ensure the points were shared.

  • Beeston 2-1 Holcombe
  • Clifton Robinsons 2-2 Surbiton
  • East Grinstead 4-1 Loughborough Students
  • Swansea 1-1 Buckingham
  • Wimbledon 1-3 Hampstead & Westminster

Defending champions Surbiton came from behind to beat Holcombe in a thrilling ten-goal game as the Men’s Premier Division got off to a scintillating start. Surbiton – who were crowned league champions the last time it was contested in full in 2019/20 – fell behind early on as Tom Russell opened the scoring for Holcombe. Rob Farrington drew Surbiton level before Nick Bandurak struck to edge Holcombe ahead once again shortly before half-time. Gareth Furlong fired home a penalty corner to bring Surbiton level for a second time, only for Jake Owen and Tom O’Keefe to both score within two minutes to hand Holcombe a healthy advantage. But another effort from Farrington, two goals from England and GB international Luke Taylor and a David Goodfield goal saw Surbiton overturn the deficit and emerge 6-4 winners.

Hampstead & Westminster also played out an enthralling game against Wimbledon, surviving a late scare to emerge 3-2 winners. South African Olympian Matt Guise-Brown produced a fine hat-trick for Hampstead to ensure they lead 3-0 at half-time against their London counterparts. Two goals in three minutes from Evan Kimber and Ben Francis set up a grandstand finish at Raynes Park High School but it wasn’t quite to be for Wimbledon.

After finishing last year’s curtailed campaign with a brilliant 1-0 win over Surbiton, Oxted transferred this momentum into the 2021/22 season as they beat East Grinstead 2-1 in the rain in West Sussex. Debutant Owen Williamson struck two sublime penalty corners to give Oxted the win, finding the top corner on both occasions as his team converted the only two attacking set pieces they won. Louis Gittens had drawn East Grinstead level with a smart deflection from a corner of their own but they couldn’t find an equaliser late on, despite their best efforts.

The University of Durham also enjoyed a 2-1 victory, this time over Brooklands MU, to start their campaign off in the best possible way. Jakob Schmidt fired the team from the north-east ahead shortly before half-time before Alex Holmes equalised just a few minutes after the interval. But Raunaq Rai converted a corner to give Durham the win in a game that also saw Robert Brownbridge start the day as a spectator and end it by taking charge of the game, taking over from one of the initial umpires after they suffered an injury.

Finally, the first game of the day saw Sam Ward continue his stunning international form from the summer as he scored twice to lead Old Georgians to a 4-0 win over Beeston. The former Beeston player struck in the ninth and 44th minutes as his side began the season imperiously, with James Tindall and Ed Carson also finding the target.

  • East Grinstead 1-2 Oxted
  • Old Georgians 4-0 Beeston
  • Surbiton 6-4 Holcombe
  • University of Durham 2-1 Brooklands MU
  • Wimbledon 2-3 Hampstead & Westminster