Amy Johnson [right] brings power to the Dalefield attack. PHOTOS/FILE

HOCKEY

CHRIS COGDALE
chris.cogdale@age.co.nz

Dalefield coach Michael O’Connor is playing his cards close to his chest in the buildup to today’s vital Wellington women’s premier championship match with Hutt United at Clareville.

The Wairarapa-based team’s only loss was on July 4 to Hutt, in a game where they conceded three goals in the final quarter to lose 3-4.

Dalefield lead the championship on 36 points, with Hutt on 33 points. Victory would almost guarantee Dalefield top seeding and two lives for the playoffs, plus home advantage for the first semifinal, with two rounds still to play.

“Probably in terms of points it’s not that important,” O’Connor said. “But for us, we can get a bit of self-belief that we can knock this team over at some stage.”

Dalefield boast the best attack and defence in the league, having scored 55 goals and conceded only nine goals in 11 games, and it’s that defence which O’Connor said is vital.

“They like to press really hard on us when we’re in our own 22, and we have to make sure that we clear the ball out of there nice and neatly, and keeping hold of it will be a big thing.

“We also must take the best options when we get in their circle. They’ve got a very good goalie and good defence, and you just can’t have a slap at the ball,” O’Connor said.

The return of striker Amy Johnson, who had been in good goal scoring form before being sidelined with a back injury three weeks ago has boosted Dalefield’s attacking options.

“Amy’s a real powerful hitter of the ball, and we use her quite a bit on the penalty corners for the power strokes.

“She’s a bit more experienced than some of the other girls, so it’s good to have her back.” O’Connor said.

“The girls know that they’re up for a big fight, and we’re looking forward to it, because the big games are why you play.”

The game will hit-off at Clareville at midday.

Lett focusing on performance and not result

Top seeding for the Wellington men’s premier championship playoffs and home advantage for the semifinals is up for grabs in today’s top of the table clash between Dalefield and Hutt United at Clareville.

Despite that, Dalefield player-coach Dane Lett is more focused on the team’s performance rather than the outcome.

“We’ll potentially play Hutt another couple of times, so we’re just trying to improve and be better than we were when we last played because we’ve been a little bit up and down in the second round so far with one good game and then one poor game,” he said.

“We just want to play well, and we know what that looks like on the ball and off the ball.

“If that means we win, that would be great, but if it’s a tight contest and we don’t quite get the result, then I definitely won’t be demoralised by that either.”

The two teams are guaranteed two lives for the playoffs, and the winner of today’s game is almost certain to secure home advantage for the first semifinal.

Dalefield are unbeaten and head the points table on 37, one ahead of Hutt, whose only loss was 3-5 to Dalefield in the first round.

The teams are also close on goal difference although Dalefield have a clear advantage in defence, having conceded only six goals, compared with Hutt’s 16.

Hutt pose a real threat with their attack and have been on a roll in recent games with – 9-2 over third-placed Naenae and 7-1 over fourth-placed Harbour City – a fact not lost on Lett.

“They’re scoring a lot of goals and that’s them if they can get a flow on with their attack and play their style of hockey,” he said.

“They have strong players all over the field, a good corner bracket, several rep players, and a lot of good players who have good hands and can score goals.

“We’ll need to focus on our defence and pressing well. If we can do that, it will give some good opportunities going forward, because they can concede a few goals.”

One less player for Dalefield to worry about is Hutt’s prolific goal scorer, Black Stick Stephen Jenness, who has moved to Auckland.

Ethan Cohen returns after recovering from a knee injury.

Dalefield are strengthened with the return of two players from injury – playmaker Benedict van Woerkom [hamstring], and Ethan Cohen [knee], although Lett said their involvement will be reduced.

However, Alex Sumenko-Bucknell will sit out the game with an ongoing hip injury.

Lett said there had been a noticeable lift in focus in the build-up to the game.

“It gets a bit more intense in training and the preparation leading up, and the guys are there a little bit earlier and more switched on, and the conversations they have around hockey seem to be a bit more focused than other weeks.

“I’m really confident in our planning and preparation, it’s just about execution and I’m always optimistic that we’re going to turn up and do what we need to do.”