Wimbledon men and women could secure European hockey for next season this weekend – but will have to do it at the home of the current champions.
Both Wimbledon teams travel to Surbiton on Saturday, with the men’s and women’s sides currently holding on to second place.
Wimbledon hold a five-point lead over their London rivals heading into the penultimate weekend of the Men’s Premier Division. A draw on Saturday will be good enough for Karl Stagno’s side to seal a return to Europe, which could be in the form of a Euro Hockey League place depending on England’s club ranking points.
“This is certainly a big game for the club, it always is when we play Surbiton but it doesn’t feel any different with Europe on the line,” said Wimbledon’s in-form Ed Horler.
“We’ve had to adapt to playing without our full squad available, due to injury and international duty but the depth of the squad has shown, particularly in the last few weeks. There have been some huge results with eight players unavailable, there is a great mindset as well as being well prepared tactically by our coaches.
“With a number of players returning to play this weekend, we are in a very good place to put out a strong performance, while hopefully showcasing an exciting game for the spectators and our sport as we approach the critical time of the season.”
Surbiton secured their eighth Vitality Women’s Premier Division title in a row last weekend and face a final home Top 6 fixture against Wimbledon, who head the three-way tussle for the second European berth.
As it stands, Wimbledon are on 38 points, Hampstead & Westminster 37 and East Grinstead 36. Victory for Wimbledon will rubber stamp the Londoners’ passage to Europe in their first full season in England Hockey’s top flight.
Suzy Petty, who joined Wimbledon in 2016, said: “We have to go for the victory. If we win it’s in our hands.”
Wimbledon have won six from nine since Christmas, while they lost to Surbiton 1-0 at home in February and drew 1-1 in the corresponding fixture at Sugden Road in October, a match which marked their first meeting in league competition.
“Everyone is really excited and it will be a huge day,” added Petty, who will be 30 on Saturday. “The fact that we are vying for a Europe spot in our first full season is pretty cool. Surbiton will be going at this game like any other and will come out all guns blazing.”
Brett Garrard, Surbiton’s coach, said that his side will be aiming to finish the season on a high ahead of their Euro Hockey League campaign next week.
He said: “I’ve billed it since Christmas as 10 Cup finals, this is number 10 and there will be no let up. We let ourselves down when we played Hampstead & Westminster [losing 2-0 in their last home game] and I was very pleased we managed to dig deep last weekend.
“It will be an important league game first and foremost and a final preparation before the EHL next week. We need to do our best because it’s the final fixture and we need to do it in the spirit of what everyone else is fighting for.”