A National League Hockey Club, part of Holcombeians Sports Club

Leisa Randall: “We have a real statement to make” on Saturday

By Lucas Ball

Leisa Randall was impressed by the statement Holcombe put out by scoring 12 goals in their last two matches over a double-header weekend and now wants the team to follow that up with a win against promotion rivals Barnes.

Victory on Saturday afternoon (2pm) at Holcombe Park would put promotion in Holcombe’s hands with one match remaining in Division One South, with Holcs set to face Wimbledon 2s at home on the last day (23rd March, 2pm).

Six points out of six against two relegation-threatened teams in Canterbury and Team Bath Buccaneers moved Holcs to within a point of Barnes, with Surbiton 2s unable to be promoted despite being top of the table.

Barnes beat Holcombe 5-2 at Dukes Meadow in November, but Randall also admits the team are keen to avenge that disappointing defeat.

Two wins out of two would seal an immediate return to the Premier Division for Nick Bandurak’s side following last season’s relegation alongside Buckingham, who have been pipped to the Division One North title by Sutton Coldfield – Holcs were promoted from the Super 6s Division One alongside Sutton Coldfield in January.

She said: “Two huge wins, six points, 12 goals, it was nice to get a goal as well.

“It’s massive, massive points on the board not just in terms of winning but also putting out a statement that we’re here to not just get the points but get those goals.

“In the first game we had six different scorers and there were a lot of field goals this weekend too, we weren’t relying on corners which is great.

“We worked the ball around well, scored deflections, scored all different types of goals and it didn’t matter who was getting the goals, it was just about getting the goals which was quite nice.

“Two away days too, one obviously slightly closer than the other with one being re-arranged – I’m glad that it didn’t snow!

“The way that we started both games holds us in great stead for the weekend coming up with obviously a huge game on the horizon.

“Going into that with 12 goals makes us feel pretty good heading into that but that’s why tonight [speaking ahead of training on Wednesday night] is very important to make sure we’re really in the right headspace for this game because is this huge.

“I think going into this game, we know the last one against them didn’t feel good, we knew that we’d lost.

“I don’t want to say we let ourselves down because I don’t mean it like that but we knew our standards and we know what we’re capable of doing.

“We have a real statement to make now at home, this is our ground, it’s completely different to their pitch.

“I don’t know who they’re bringing but we have that home advantage and, as a team, we’ve basically been treating these last few games as almost a cup run-up, knockout style so this is essentially onto the semi-final.

“That seems to be working for us as a group, taking each game as it comes and doing the preparation for each game. We’ve played them once, we know what they’re going to do, we know their players, it’s just now building training around that to cater for that game.

“It would be nice to turn it around at the first time of asking.

“As a team last year, we all felt that we weren’t where we needed to be, there were different players.

“In the last game, it was clear who’d been there long-term and who’d been there short-term.

“This year, it’s not like that, regardless of how long you’ve been here for half a season, a year or 20 years, it makes no difference because everyone is fighting for the same thing in promotion.

“We’re a team and we pick each other up, we see when people are in holes and we get them out.

“Especially for me, I’ve been around the team for years, knowing that there isn’t a person in that team that I wouldn’t play for is such a good feeling.”

Randall’s goal against Canterbury, a sliding reverse finish, took her tally to five for the season, with Bandurak’s side having racked up 53 goals in 16 Division One South matches (the most in the division), as well as nine goals in two cup games against Trojans and Wimbledon 2s.

Saturday’s result also meant that Holcombe completed a league double over Kent rivals Canterbury, scoring 13 goals in two matches and conceding just three, while also beating the Polo Farm outfit 7-1 in the indoor season.

“100%, for me there’s nothing better than a derby day and I’ve played against Canterbury for so many years, it’s always huge whether it’s home or away and it’s literally survival of the fittest when you’re out there.

“No team wants to lose and it was great to get the points on the day, they did get a couple of goals but at no point were we too concerned that we weren’t going to win the game. Personally, it felt like we were in control for the whole game bar maybe a five, 10-minute window of small errors but overall, I never felt like we were going to lose the game.

“It’s nice to get on the scoresheet on a derby day, too, playing against people that I’ve played since I was small.

“You’ve got players like Mel Clewlow, a massive player for them, after the game coming up to me and saying ‘great goal’, it’s just nice in the hockey community that there’s that respect between players, especially knowing that going into that game they’re also in a relegation battle, it was a huge game for them and massive for us because we want to get the promotion.

“It was great to win both games.

“After being clipped in the video and getting that, the first thing when it came up was that I need to watch this back – in the moment, it felt like it was really good but I watched it back and thought ‘why have I gone to ground there?’

“In the moment, it looked great though, and a goal’s a goal – love a backhand!

“It was a nice passage of play – Les [Catherine Ledesma] and I always seem to have these small moments where we make that eye contact and I know that she’s going to chuck a ball, I’ve just got to get on the end of it and put it in the goal.

“It’s nice to score, it doesn’t really matter how it goes in – the photos were interesting but obviously it means a lot! Scoring five goals for the season for a forward is huge, forwards get confidence from goals so it’s always nice to score.

“Not bad [on hearing Holcombe have averaged more than three goals per league game this season] – we doubled that in both games this weekend!

“It puts us in a good position for the weekend.

“Especially last year, we went through phases of forwards not being confident and knowing we could get the ball there but in that final 25, we weren’t scoring – there was a lot of pressure on forwards to score and naturally it doesn’t happen when there is pressure on that but I think definitely since starting back, we found our rhythm again and just know where the goal is, which is huge.

“It’s three huge points to gain on the weekend and I have no doubt that we’ll score goals, it’s just how many.”

The forward is the longest-serving Holcombe player in the squad and was around the squad when Holcombe won promotion from the Conference East to the Premier Division back in 2013.

Randall is one of two players remaining from that squad alongside captain Harriet Pittard and knows what promotion would mean to the club, encouraging Holcombe supporters to pack out the terrace this weekend to get behind the team, recalling the noise having a huge impact in earlier games this season.

Now one of the more experienced players in the team, Randall also has plenty of advice for some of the younger players coming through the set-up.

“From last year, having the relegation was not only massive for the team but also as a club, this would’ve been our ninth year in the Premier Division and I’m one of the very few players that remember being in the Conference before and us getting into the Prem.

“Last year obviously hurt because not many people really understood what that meant not only for players but for the club – we worked hard to get there and then to stay in that league.

“This game is really the statement that everyone’s looking for, this is the grudge match that everyone wants, we’ve been looking forward to this game knowing that this is the big one, and it would be a real statement for us to beat them, take the three points and say ‘it’s up to you now, come for us’.

“100%, the crowd has helped us so much in some games.

“The more people that are here the better.

“I’ve grown up here, played at the club since I was 10, there is no better feeling than being out there, hearing the crowd and knowing that even if you make a mistake, the crowd have got your back.

“If decisions don’t go your way, you know they’re there fighting your corner and they give you that bit of a boost if you’re chasing a player and don’t think you’re going to make it, that boost to at least stay in the contest and do something with that.

“I just think it’s so important, of all of the games this season, this is going to be the one that we need as many voices as we can get.

“If we win this game, we have one game left to win and get promotion, it’s massive. It’s nice to be on this side of it and not the relegation side, it’s great to be building towards something for next year.

“I see youngsters like [Hannah] Carney coming through, I’ve been her wanting to break into a team, yes there’s obviously nerves, a little bit of fear for the youngsters but they also play without that fear, they internalise it but their game doesn’t show that.

“Everyone is nervous, whatever age – Saturday is huge, people are going to be nervous but it’s how you turn those nerves into something positive in the game.

“As a group, we’re going to be pumped for this – there will be nerves, we will make mistakes but I don’t think that will define us in this game.

“We’ve played almost the whole season now and I think we know how to turn that into something good.

“Our average age is probably mid-20s but there isn’t anyone in that team who can’t slot in and put in a shift, regardless of whether you’re the youngest or oldest and I’m now obviously nearer the older age of that bracket but I’ve been the youngest in the team, it’s nice to see that generational thing coming through.

“For someone like Carney, she is the next generation, she’s another home-grown player and there aren’t many of us at the club.

“But you’ve also got people like Phoebe [Steele], Hannah Bond, all of our newbies this year, you wouldn’t know that they haven’t been part of this team for a long time.

“Everyone’s slotted in so well and as a team, regardless of what team you’re in that week, who you’re with in that drill warming up, it makes no difference because we’re all mates on and off-the-pitch, that helps to build a team.”

Holcombe will have Easter weekend off following the conclusion of their league campaign ahead of a cup semi-final trip to Doncaster on April 7th, with Surbiton 2s and Beeston meeting in the other last-four clash.

Bandurak’s side have beaten Trojans and Wimbledon 2s to get to this stage, scoring nine and conceded five in the process.

Randall added: “We wanted to come into this season, looking to get promoted but we were all under no illusions that we wanted to do the treble as well [indoor and outdoor promotion, cup].

“Why not test ourselves? Yes, we want to get promoted but we’ve done indoor, we’re in the mix for promotion and everyone loves a cup run.

“We love an away day apparently too! Doncaster away, we’ve never played them before, it’ll be a huge game but also for them, we want to send a statement out again that you don’t know us, but this is what we’re about, this is why we’re doing so well in our league and then hopefully we can get to the final.

“It’s two league games and hopefully two cup games left and then the season’s over, which is quite sad!”

Entry is free at Holcombe Park on Saturday with Holcombe’s men also in action against Hampstead & Westminster at 6pm. Updates will be provided for both games across Holcombe’s social media channels.

Image: Becci Woodhead