By Lucas Ball
New signing Alex Pendle is excited by the start Holcombe have made to the season and still believes there is more to come from the side as they bid for Premier Division glory.
Barry Middleton’s early pace-setters sit top of the table following two convincing wins to start the season, beating Reading 4-0 at Holcombe Park before heading to Southgate for their first home game since returning to the Premier Division and winning 5-2.
Holcombe also travel to Barcelona next week to take on Racing Club de France and then either CA Montrouge or hosts Real Club de Polo at the Euro Hockey League (EHL) KO16 following Thursday’s game against Old Georgians and Saturday’s trip to Sugden Road to take on Surbiton (6pm) after Holcombe women face Surbiton 2s in the Vitality Division One South (3:30pm).
Pendle said: “It’s been really good. We’ve got off to a good start in the league and pre-season went really well – it was a little bitty with some of the boys being away but we’ve really settled nicely into the league games and have got a big few weeks ahead of us now.
“It’s been brilliant, it’s always good to see lots of goals going in at the right end. We’ve done a lot of work on that in training, we’ve been working a lot on our circle work and it’s good to see it paying off really well. Off the back of what the boys did last season, it’s nice to come in and get amongst it with them and the goals flying in is always good fun.
“Baz and Ames have been nailing it into us, getting into the final part of the pitch and just playing with freedom. It seems to be paying off really well – in both league games and the couple of pre-season games we played, we linked up really well and looked really good going forward.
“It’s frustrating that one hasn’t gone in yet for me but it’s really positive to be getting close already. Next couple of weeks, hopefully I’ll stick a couple in to get the ball rolling.”
“If the chances don’t fall, you can’t get annoyed – if you’re getting close and into good areas, you know it’s going to come at some point – there’s only so many you can put just wide. Learning off some of these boys such as Bandy has been really, really good.
“We’re looking really fit and playing really well on the ball. Off-the-ball, we’re defending really well if we go man-to-man, we’re getting pressure to the ball and it seems to work. Having that flip where we can also move into a zonal set-up is really nice and we know we can mix it up as and when we want to. In a man-to-man set-up, we’re looking really strong.
“The coach was a massive part of the reason for me joining the club. I knew a few of the boys already and knew that the culture of the club was really good, really social, which I like. Having Baz as a coach and obviously Amesy as well was a massive factor as to why I wanted to come. It shows in the sessions we have, it’s really fun, really enjoyable hockey but we’re getting good results out of it as well.”
Both of Holcombe’s first teams were victorious over Southgate at the weekend in front of a noisy crowd at the Southgate Hockey Centre, with a number of clubs looking to take their matchday experience up a gear. Middleton’s side travel to Surbiton for another double-header on Saturday and Pendle is looking forward to playing in a home double-header.
He added: “I think we really tried to rise to it. We knew it was a massive day for them, all the music blaring out at corners, at goals, before the game. It energised us more. We knew they were going to come flying out at us man-to-man so we hit back with a similar tactic and it really energised us and made us want to go at them.
“I’m really looking forward to that on Saturday, we’ll get there early to watch the girls’ game as well which is really good fun and then hopefully they stick around after. I think it’ll be a really good crowd and like the Southgate game, hopefully we can really rise to the occasion again and really prepare well for the Euros after that.
“They were brilliant at the Reading game, let alone a double-header game so I’m really looking forward to that home support and hopefully get a win for them too.”
Old Georgians were victorious over Holcombe in all four of their meetings last season, including the Premier Division final in April, though the champions have a new coaching structure in place and have opened this campaign with a win and a defeat.
“As reigning champions, I think they’re really going to come at us after losing at the weekend. They’re going to really want it, knowing we came close to them last year as well. We trained really well tonight [Tuesday], feel really energised from the weekend and I think the boys are feeling really good. I think we’ll hit them with the energy again and then the on the ball stuff will come as it has done in the last couple of weeks, I don’t think anything changes and we’ll still look really good to hopefully go and grab a win from them.”
Following two more Premier Division matches, Holcombe will travel to Barcelona on Thursday ahead of facing Racing Club in the EHL KO16 on Friday afternoon (3:45pm local time).
New signing Louis Duprez, now in his second spell at Holcombe, formerly played for the French outfit. Middleton’s side have been touted as favourites for the match.
“Personally, I’m not too used to it but I think it’s one where you don’t change the preparation at all. In these games, you can be either favourites or underdogs but when you’re out there, both teams in a different country, playing under tournament pressure, anything can happen. If we play as we have done and bring that energy, we know the quality will come on the ball so if we can hit them early, hopefully we can get into that second game quite nicely but if we don’t put it in, then quickly we could be struggling.
“I would love it. Playing in Barcelona against, essentially, Barcelona would be fantastic. The crowd would be electric I reckon and it would probably be the highest-pressure game I’d have played in if we get there so I’ll be looking to soak it all up, I’m really looking forward to it. If we play how we have been playing, then we can definitely give them a good run.
“It’ll be great, I’ve heard there’s a good amount heading out there and it’ll be brilliant to hear them on the sidelines, keeping us going – a little bit of home support out there will be really nice for us.
“Potentially, we’ve kind of got the inside track there, haven’t we? So hopefully he can give us some inside knowledge and a little edge maybe.”
Image: Simon Webb