Tight battle for the South League title

by HWC member Mike Haymonds via the South League website
Friday, January 8th, 2016
South league

This season’s title race in the South League Premier Division One – with automatic promotion to the England Hockey League for the winners the prize – is being closely contested by Havant and Old Georgians, spearheaded by their leading scorers, Old Georgians’ James Tindall and Havant’s Sandeep Singh.

The two clubs have been neck-and-neck all season with Havant edging ahead at the mid-season break by one goal on goal difference after the duo reached the mid-point level on 28 points.

Old Georgians won the first meeting of the pair at home in October, thanks to a lone strike by Will Collins.

Tindall, 32, a Beijing and London Olympian in his second season with the Old Boys, has played in every game bar one - on his wedding day - and has scored 26 goals, proving to be a worthy replacement for their former star striker South African Ryan Van Der Reit.

Sandeep, 29, a former Indian international drag-flick specialist, has 14 goals and has also missed one game but has had injury problems, early on with an ankle and more recently back trouble, preventing him from taking corners in the latest matches.

He has returned to India to play in the Hockey India League and may not return when that competition is over at the end of February. Havant plan to recruit a former Pakistani international forward, not a drag-flicker, who will step down if Sandeep does return.

The League leaders have a three-point margin over their nearest pursuers Spencer, who would benefit if either stumbles.
Chris Pickett, Havant’s president, said: “Last season was our first after relegation from the National League and our aim was to bounce straight back but it didn’t work out that way.

“This league is extremely tough, with the top teams stronger than the lower sides in the National League Conference Divisions.
“History has shown that getting a side to challenge for promotion is usually a three-year cycle but our ambition is still to win the league this season.
“We have had big injury problems and we are not as favourably located as Old Georgians for attracting players as we are 180 percent surrounded by water.

“Our return fixture with Old Georgians at home on February 6 will be a crucial six-pointer.”

Last season Old Georgians were pipped to the title by one point by Sevenoaks.

The Old Boys’ manager Jonny Stephens admitted: “The first half of the season has proved to be far tougher than last year. Last year we were very blessed that we did not suffer too many injuries but this year we have been blighted and not once have we had a full squad to choose from.

“It seems this year that other sides in the league have strengthened and there are very few “easy games”. With Spencer, Oxford Hawks, Havant and Old Cranleighans all performing strongly it seems that more clubs will have a say in the ultimate destiny of the title.

“Obviously Havant are our closest competitors but it is by no means a two-horse race. Havant have improved as a side from last year but Spencer, Oxford Hawks and OCs will all still feel that they have a chance of the title and rightly so.

“We look forward to a really competitive second half of the season where the other eleven sides will raise their game in the matches against us. We know that, if we win all of our remaining games, then we will win the league.
“But I know that there will be a number of twists in the tale”.