The Men’s league season gets back underway this weekend with lots of interest at the top of both the NEMLA and SEMLA Premier Division while others fight for survival and promotion.
Looking back at the early season results, there were very few surprises for the first part of the NEMLA season with the newly restructured league system in place dividing the top sides into two Conferences, with the top 8 from last season all making the Premier 1 Division after the first rounds of fixtures.
However, if the first half of the season had been as expected, the opening set of Premier 1 fixtures certainly changed all that.
A 9-8 victory for Poynton inflicted Cheadle’s first league defeat since the 2015/16 season, 26 matches ago.
The Blackbirds have proven a consistent thorn in the side of Cheadle in recent years, handing them their last two previous defeats, both in the Flags Finals in 2016 and again in 2017.
If the defeat was a surprise for last year’s champions, a real shock came the following week as Cheadle were beaten for a second consecutive game, again going down by a goal 7-8 to Heaton Mersey.
Poynton’s win gave them the opportunity to assert their position as early leaders going in to the Christmas break, but a hard-fought 8-8 tie against Stockport in Week 3 has opened things back up again, with Heaton Mersey now possessing the only 100% record (2-0).
Stockport, runners-up last year, would have been delighted to see a Cheadle defeat, but they were handed their own shock loss on the opening week of fixtures, 9-8 at Timperley, who ended a long winless streak against Stockport.
The opening weeks’ results have left the Premier 1 Division wide open and a host of teams will now fancy their chances of taking the title with the likes of Poynton and Heaton Mersey looking to dethrone the Cheadle/Stockport stronghold for the first time since 2008.
And there’s no let up with the fixture scheduling this weekend as Cheadle and Heaton Mersey meet again in the return match with the reigning champions surely needing the win to keep alive hopes of retaining the crown.
Meanwhile in the South, the SEMLA Premier is back as well this weekend with a full schedule and an equally intriguing tussle at the top of the table.
Hampstead have lead the early running once again this year as they look to win back-to-back titles after claiming last year’s crown by the narrowest of margins on head-to-head record.
The unbeaten Londoners have looked imperious in the first-half of the season posting double figures in every game so far and have proven equally ruthless in defence offering very little to any opposition.
The nearest challenge so far has come from Hillcroft who recorded a highly impressive 9-5 victory away at rivals Spencer in Week 2 and should continue to keep the pressure on Hampstead though were comfortably dispatched just before the Christmas break, 13-3, by the league leaders.
Spencer, who missed out on the title last season, have looked good in overcoming lower–ranked opposition, posting 112 goals in just seven games, but have come up short in the crucial contests against Hillcroft and Hampstead.
The Sparrows will no doubt continue to believe they can close on the top two but their efforts may now be better placed in maintaining their incredible Flags record as they go for a record seventh straight success after they saw off Hillcroft in a classic Last 16 encounter which saw the reigning champions win 8-7 in SD OT.
No doubt Hampstead will have an eye on finally ending Spencer’s run having been defeated by the side in each of the last six years and both sides look on track to meet in the highly anticipated Flags Final.
There has also been positive first halves of the year for both Bristol Bombers, who are one win away from matching their wins from last season, and Welwyn Warriors who, after securing promotion, won their first three matches and look comfortable in securing their Premier Division status for next year.
|Bristol Bombers||12pm||Walcountian Blues|
|Cambridge Uni||2pm||Reading Wildcats|