A National League Hockey Club, part of Holcombeians Sports Club

Jake Owen: Holcombe remain confident despite Hampstead defeat

By Lucas Ball

Holcombe’s Jake Owen says that the team are in a confident mood as they bid for an immediate return to winning ways against Beeston at Holcombe Park on Saturday evening (6pm).

Barry Middleton’s side were defeated 1-0 last time out by Hampstead & Westminster in their first match of Phase Three of the 2023/24 Premier Division season, leaving Holcombe bottom of Pool A ahead of the second round of fixtures.

Holcs, who have been without captain Nick Bandurak since the end of Phase One, likely need to beat Beeston and then win against Old Georgians at St. George’s College on the last day to qualify for League Finals weekend and have a chance at playing in next season’s Euro Hockey League (EHL).

Despite that defeat on Saturday, Owen says the group have been buoyed by a positive performance and remain confident in their abilities to reach League Finals and the EHL, after being knocked out in the KO8 stage of this season’s competition back in October.

Owen said: “I think, obviously, we’re disappointed – to play as well as we did and not come away with the result is a bit of a bitter pill to swallow.

“We’re taking the positives from it, though, to put up a performance like that shows that we do have the potential to still recover from that.

“We do have a great record against Hampstead but that doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to go to win, you still have to earn that and, to their credit, they came here and did a good job.

“The mood in the camp was obviously a bit deflated after Saturday but this week so far has been really good in terms of training intensity and energy.

“The boys are definitely looking forward to getting back out there and trying to rectify that little blip.

“Yeah, absolutely [we’re pleased with the number of chances created against Hampstead] but unfortunately that’s kind of the nature of sport, it doesn’t always fall your way and you will have those days where it doesn’t quite come for you, you don’t fall on the right side of it.

“That’s the exciting part of it, I guess, you never actually know what’s going to happen – you can deserve a win but not come away with it and equally I’m sure we’ve probably had some games this year where we’ve maybe been on the other side of that and probably not deserved to win a game that we have come away with so it swings both ways.

“We’ve just got to do what we can to prep as well as possible for the next two weeks.”

“I think the challenge of Old Georgians is always a massive one.

“You know what they’re going to bring and they are a very hard team to break down, they’re tactically very aware and we’ll be facing them off the back of their EHL campaign as well, so they’ll have been playing some top, top-level hockey and will be in good form.

“We’re going to need to be at our sharpest but I have no doubt that the boys will come with the right attitude and we’re definitely going to leave everything out there so hopefully that will be enough to get us over the line at the end.

“Looking ahead to Beeston first, it’s a massive game and we still have to win that.

“Goal difference might come into it so we do need to win it by quite a few.

“I think we definitely have that capability but looking at the results, Beeston did push OGs quite close so who knows what sort of side’s going to show up with them?

“We just have to focus on ourselves and put our best performance out there to give ourselves the best chance and put ourselves in the best position heading into the OGs game to get a spot at play-offs.

“They’ve [Beeston] obviously got quite a lethal top-man in Henry Croft, he’s in good form at the moment, finding goals and that’s definitely something we’re going to have to contain.

“I think we did well to contain that in the first meeting in Phase One so we know what to expect and how to prep for that, we just have to be on our A-game.

“Speaking about previous results, yes we beat them 10-0 before but we can’t expect to do that again, we have to go out again and earn those results, earn the right to win by those scorelines by doing the right things and sticking to our processes.

“It [EHL] was an incredible experience – for me, it was something I’d dreamed of since I was a kid around 14, when I first started really playing hockey properly.

“I remember seeing it online and thinking ‘wow, that’s a hell of an event and I want to be a part of that at some point’ so to play in that was a bit of a dream come true.

“It was unfortunate that we fell the wrong side of that result against Polo, conceding an early goal and then probably actually being the better team out of the two for most of the rest of the game. Still, it was an incredible experience and I think it would be fantastic to be able to do that again or at least compete for that chance.

“With the team that we’ve got, we definitely have the potential and the capability to be there again but we’ve now got a hard couple of weeks ahead of us.

“I’m more than confident that the boys can manage that and come out on the right side at the end of it.

“The group being really close does help a lot and we are quite honest with each other, we’re able to have those grown-up conversations about things and I think you often find that there’s not almost the ghost of a loss hanging behind you, it doesn’t really weigh on the group a lot, we just move past it and move forwards.

“During the training sessions, there’s always laughing and joking, people being a little bit silly to lighten the mood and help to move things on but it’s always done in the right manner and the right times.

“When it’s go-time, everyone is on it and it’s pretty sharp.

“Being a tight group definitely helps with those kinds of things and I think going into our next two games, that’s going to be really important for us to keep that going.”

As well as being without Bandurak since November, Phil Roper, Tom Russell and Hayden Phillips all missed matches across Phase Two – an injury crisis culminating in Holcombe travelling to Southgate two weeks ago with a squad of just 13 players.

Despite that, Holcs continued their record as the best defence in the Premier Division and have conceded just 21 in 17 matches, keeping a clean sheet in a 3-0 win at the Southgate Hockey Centre.

“They’re key players, guys who drive the game a lot and provide a huge amount of quality and experience.

“It’s a wealth of talent and to miss them at times has been huge but I think we’ve also done quite well to step up and fill the shoes of those guys as best we can.

“It gives a really good chance for some of the younger guys to start to learn and try to step in and be the guys that have to come in to take the game to people, we can’t always rely on those guys and that’s a really good learning experience for the future.

“It’s always nice to have those guys in, though, because they do provide a huge amount of quality for us.

“It was an interesting one – I can’t say that I’ve ever played a game at that standard with that number of players before!

“It was definitely hard work and I know the boys all put in huge shifts.

“I was really proud of the lads for that one, we’ve gone into it with no fear, no excuses, no one was whinging, moaning that we were down players and it was going to be really hard work, everyone just took the challenge on the chin and got on with it.

“We were rewarded for our hard work with the 3-0 win and Louis Duprez getting his first goal was definitely a good one for morale.

“It was really nice to see in a game like that, that we could still churn out a result and especially without some key players.

“For me personally, I take a massive pride in the defence, I really don’t like conceding goals and it also makes it a lot easier to win games when you’re not conceding four, five goals in a game.

“If you’re only conceding one a game, if that, then you only need to score one or two to win, which makes life a little bit easier and that gives us a lot of confidence going into the OGs game that actually, we can get a result if we defend really, really well and we manage to get our penalty corners firing and take our chances in the circle.

“Again, going into the Beeston game, it gives you confidence when you’re going up against someone like Crofty to be able to nullify that threat and be able to do our work up top.”

Owen also paid tribute to coaches Middleton and David Ames for their work with both the group and him personally as he continues to balance studies at Loughborough University with playing Premier Division hockey.

He also admits that the group being so tight-knit is a huge help in terms of motivation with some long hours spent travelling.

Middleton, who turned 40 in January, is still one of Holcombe’s stand-out performers while Ames looks set to captain Great Britain at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

“It’s pretty brutal at times, definitely.

“It’s about keeping in communication with Barry [Middleton] and Amesy [David Ames] if there are times when I need to just manage the schedule a little bit but for the most part it’s just getting on with it.

“To be honest, I love this group so much and playing with them is an absolute joy so for me it never feels like a chore so I am actually really excited to show up here despite spending two-and-a-half to four hours driving down the M1 and M25 depending on traffic.

“It’s still fantastic to rock up here and have a big smile on my face while I play and train, loving every minute that I’m on the pitch with a top bunch of lads.

“You can learn everything you could possibly want to know about hockey from those two blokes [Middleton & Ames].

“They’ve got a serious amount of experience to pick from and Barry’s just a freak in some respects – some of the things you watch him do and just think ‘how on earth have you done that’, I’ve never seen stuff like it so that’s a real positive for me and it’s nice to see the sort of creativity and interesting side that he brings to it with stuff that he’s thought about a lot and just tries, just gives it a go.

“He provides freedom for us and encourages us to just go for what we can do and to take things on, to be happy making positive mistakes and that’s a really key part of it.

“Amesy, he’s a tactician, the guy knows a hell of a lot about how to play the game so I’ve learnt a lot from him about when do you give, when do you take, when do you put more pressure on, when do you concede a little bit of space.

“There’s so much that you can learn from those guys just by having conversations through training and definitely something that I’ve found really useful in the last couple of years to progress my game forwards.”

Entry is free at Holcombe Park on Saturday (6pm), updates will be provided across Holcombe’s social media channels and the match will be streamed on Veo Live. Holcombe’s women are also in action at 2pm against Wimbledon 2s, looking to secure promotion from Division One South back to the Premier Division.

Image: Martin Waight