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Holcombe ‘fully-focused’ on Canterbury and Team Bath Buccaneers, says Phoebe Steele

By Lucas Ball

Phoebe Steele insists that Holcombe are fully-focused on their double-header weekend as the battle for promotion nears its conclusion in Division One South.

Nick Bandurak’s side are currently third, needing to finish second to win promotion. They sit four points behind second-placed Barnes with a game-in-hand, with Barnes set to visit Holcombe Park next weekend in the penultimate league fixture of the season.

Holcs face Canterbury at Polo Farm tomorrow (1:!5pm) ahead of a trip to Team Bath Buccaneers on Sunday (3pm) after the Bath match was postponed due to snow last weekend.

Barnes face Sevenoaks on Saturday, meanwhile, who inflicted Surbiton 2s’ first defeat of the season last time out, beating the London side 3-0.

Steele said: “Training’s been good, it was really good last week in the build-up to the Bath game before that was postponed so it’s been about how can we keep it fresh and still build momentum, I think the coaches did that really well. We’re looking forward to it.

“I think Nick touched on it with the Canterbury game, it was an accumulation of a lot of things going right, they were missing a couple of key players, we put away some chances but equally missed a few and they missed a couple too.

“I think we don’t underestimate Canterbury, we take confidence from the previous performance but we know that they’re at home, it’s a big rivalry and it’s going to be a massive game.

“With Bath, none of us have forgotten that game where they hit the post in the last two minutes with a chance to win it, we want to be putting a statement out about how we’ve been going and come out with a clean sheet for the next four games.

“It’s a big, big weekend but we’re looking forward to it.

“I think it has to be all about this weekend now.

“With the loss against Harleston now, it’s almost like knockout hockey, if we lose one then we’re relying on other results.

“We can’t even focus on the Bath game before the Canterbury game, it’s every game as it comes now.

“To be honest, we haven’t even thought that much about the cup because we want to finish the league season on a high.

“It’s nice to have both competitions but right now, we’re fully focused on this weekend.”

Following this weekend, Holcombe conclude their league campaign with consecutive home fixtures against promotion rivals Barnes and then relegation-threatened Wimbledon 2s. Holcs lost 5-2 at Barnes earlier in the season and beat Wimbledon 2s 5-1 at Raynes Park in the league before beating them 4-3 in the cup a week later.

“We love our home and it was gutting to lose at home last time out, I think that really added another layer to that loss.

“There’s some big travel for the Bath game, but I can’t wait to be back at home for those last two matches and hopefully fill the terrace.

“I think for us, it’s executing our plans. We went two, three-nil down pretty early in that game but did actually come back and I think by the end of the game, we were on top in a lot of the stats, just not the scoreboard so it’s finding ways to get the ball in the back of the net – however we do it, we don’t really care who scores the goals, just that they go in.

“Equally, Barnes are a great side, we just need to execute our game plan and focus on what we can do well to hopefully get that result.”

Playing mostly in midfield, Steele has scored 11 goals so far this season in all competitions, including in six of the last seven Division One South matches, a run that stretches back to November.

She has also contributed well defensively alongside the rest of the unit, with Bandurak’s side having the joint-third-best defensive record in the league, alongside Barnes.

Holcs are also the second-highest scorers in Division One South, though their last open play goal came in the first half against Slough, with five full halves of hockey played since then.

Steele added: “Definitely [pleased to add more goals]. It feels a bit unfair to be honest, I can only flick if it’s a good drag and a trap – and someone’s got to earn the PC, there should be a collective name on that goal sheet not just a goal for me but I’m glad I can do my job after everyone else has been doing theirs.

“I think lots of things have built up and it’s resulted in losses or results that we haven’t wanted.

“I know as a team we’ve been working really hard in that circle, it’s something we’ve identified and we’ve been putting a lot of time and effort into it.

“We’ve got such talented players up front that we know it’s coming, we don’t even care if it’s our defenders scoring the goals.

“If we can execute and get the ball in the back of the net, then that’s what matters.

“We’ve worked really hard defensively, we’re still disappointed with some of the ones we’ve let in and we’ve spent a lot of time on those to try to correct our errors.

“We’ve got such solid players at the back there, some experience and then youth with Woody [Tilly Woodhead] in goal, but you wouldn’t even know, she’s incredible.”

The New Zealander also admits that some honest conversations have had to be had in recent weeks but that those have been made easier by the closeness of the group, with the varying age profile of the squad and differing levels of experience also creating a good balance.

“I think it’s really important that we are close and it’s something that I don’t take for granted, I know people have my back and it’s something we’ve been trying to work on, those open and honest conversations.

“With the goals we have in mind, we might need to have some open, honest conversations about how we’re playing or things we want to improve on but it’s knowing that it’s all for the love of the game, all to get those results that we want and need, it’s not personal.

“It’s something we’ve been working on but equally, being in a close-knit team, you know when something goes wrong that people will have your back and it’s so, so important.

“I think the balance in the squad has helped us immensely.

“You’ve got the youth who play without fear, you need some of that but then you’ve also got that experience to balance it, knowing how to control a game – it’s 70 minutes long, it’s a long time and you can’t just play gung-ho hockey the whole time.

“Everyone’s worked really well, we’ve had our moments throughout the season but often it’s been those young ones who’ve played without that fear and broke through and dished the ball to our experienced players there.

“The coaches have got the balance right I think, it seems to be working well.

“It’s a tough one, it’s one we’ve been talking about as a team and how much we want to focus on those end goals.

“Everyone knows that we want to get promoted but realistically, that doesn’t happen if we don’t win those games so I think having the experience of those girls who have played at the elite level for a long time is great, they know what’s required and they can help to keep those standards up and drive those standards at training.

“Equally, we still just need to take it game by game.”

Updates of both Saturday’s and Sunday’s matches will be provided on Holcombe’s social media channels.

Other Division One South fixtures (Saturday, 9th March, 2024):

12:00pm – Wimbledon 2s vs. Team Bath Buccaneers

12:30pm – Slough vs. Surbiton 2s

3:30pm – Southgate vs. Harleston Magpies

4:30pm – Sevenoaks vs. Barnes

Image: Jon Goodall