By Lucas Ball
Holcombe moved back to the summit of the Premier Division table following their 3-2 win over Surbiton at Sugden Road courtesy of goals from Phil Roper (2) and Nick Bandurak.
The Great Britain duo have been in electric form early on in the season, scoring 10 goals in four matches between them (five apiece). Roper also netted a brace on the opening day before scoring last weekend at Southgate, with Bandurak having scored in all four league matches so far – scoring one against Reading, two against Southgate, one against Old Georgians and one against Surbiton.
The hosts drop to fifth following the defeat but 10 teams do have a game-in-hand on the top two, with Holcombe’s fixture against Old Georgians having been brought forward from this coming weekend, with both sides in Barcelona for the Euro Hockey League (EHL) KO16.
Holcombe’s counter-attacking plan worked to perfection on Saturday evening with a number of quick breaks catching the opposition defence out and forcing James Mazarelo into action.
The first quarter was a quiet one with the only real chance coming when Ollie Payne made a good stop to deny a reverse effort.
It was the away side, though, who struck first five minutes into the second quarter. Holcombe won possession deep in their own half and worked the ball to Roper, who found New Zealand international Hayden Phillips. Phillips drove forward before releasing the Great Britain forward with a cute reverse pass, and Roper made no mistake as he struck past Mazarelo.
The lead, though, only lasted around five minutes. Three penalty corners in a row for Surbiton eventually saw Gareth Furlong drag-flick home, before Payne made a good stop to deny Alex Williams minutes before the half-time whistle.
Barry Middleton’s men started the third quarter better than their opponents, with Rob Field seeing an upright reverse kept out by Mazarelo before the visitors re-established their advantage.
Roper’s aerial into the circle was missed by a defender allowing Bandurak to control in space, and Mazarelo could do nothing about the finish despite getting a touch. The power was too much and Bandurak made it five for the season.
Before the end of the third quarter, Surbiton were level when Furlong scored another drag-flick to level the scores heading into the final period.
Surbiton had largely been reduced to penalty corner chances throughout the contest and their only real chance in the final quarter came from another corner, which was well-defended before a cross-cum-shot ended up going out of play for a sideline.
Mazarelo was once again forced into action with just over 10 minutes left on the clock as Roper drove forward on the counter and found Field, whose effort looked as though it might have been sneaking in until the Great Britain goalkeeper’s outstretched leg managed to clear the danger.
Holcombe’s winner came with just five minutes to play. Surbiton once again failed to clear their lines as a ball found its way across the circle, with Roper expertly deflecting into the net from Tom O’Keeffe’s pass.
The visitors held out for the three points without too much trouble from the London side to make it three wins from four in Phase One ahead of their EHL campaign, which kicks off on Friday against Racing Club de France (3:45pm local time).
Following their match on Friday, Middleton’s men will take on either CA Montrouge or hosts Real Club de Polo in the KO8 or a ranking match on Saturday (4pm local time) or Sunday (12pm local time), with either match set to be streamed at Holcombe Park over the weekend.
The EHL KO16 can also be streamed by purchasing a match pass here: https://www.eurohockeytv.org/en-int/page/event-pass-ehl-ko16