England: Axford Relishes Oxted Mission In Premier Division Top 6 Battle

Confidence is high at Oxted after falling short of a Top 6 berth in Men’s Premier Division, reports The Hockey Paper’s Rod Gilmour .

Charlie Axford fractured his wrist three weeks before the start of the season and was forced to miss his first game for Oxted at local rivals East Grinstead.

With player-coach Nick Giles on the pitch, new signing Axford was on the sidelines and was handed more of a coaching role as Oxted came away from Saint Hill with a 3-2 win in a typically charged derby.

“I was fully immersed in it,” he recalls. “It was the anticipation of the first game of the season and both teams thought it was one they could win. It was tetchy and got a bit feisty towards the end with a close encounter. We were glad to get the points.”

That win was followed by just one point from a possible 15 which included tough encounters and losses against the current top four in the Men’s Premier Division. However, back-to-back victories have now put Oxted within touching distance of a Top 6 place this month after twice narrowly missing out. 

“We had a tough run of fixtures with Wimbledon, Hampstead, Holcombe and Surbiton and it wasn’t a fair reflection of our hockey,” admits Axford. “We’ve been getting a lot better and improving.”

After graduating from University of Nottingham, Axford moved down to Oxted and has started a full-time role in marketing for Haier, the leading home appliances firm who also sponsor Oxted.

“Joining the club there was a real sense that this season was going to be one to look forward to and a real high expectation that Top 6 was achievable and the aim,” he adds.

After finishing his Masters at Nottingham, Axford feels for his former club who currently prop up the Premier Division table. “They are a really good group and probably the best university side this year. When you look at the Prem table they are struggling and have had a few narrow losses,” he continues.

“I was one of eight or so who left last season and it’s a big change so hopefully they can start picking up points when traditionally universities improve quicker than other teams. That will be something they can look forward to and the results that didn’t go their way are ones to target.”

After trialling for the GB EDP and being involved for around 18 months (he played in the European U21s last summer), Axford has put the programme “on the backburner” for the time being. “It’s not a closed door and if it’s something I want to pursue in a few years if my hockey is going well I would certainly think about it,” he adds.

Axford is part of a wider sporting family. Maddie is currently captain at high-flying University of Nottingham and is set to play for England at the upcoming Junior World Cup in Chile, while sister Kate left the 2022 GB women’s squad to pursue a career in athletics. “It’s not been long since she started and she’s had some great results. There is a lot happening in her running life,” says Charlie.

For now, November will be a pivotal hockey month for the Axfords. 

“The league is better this year in terms of standard with the likes of Cardiff and Southgate coming up,” says Charlie. “The fight for Top 6 is closer and more exciting than we hoped and the game against Southgate could end up deciding the sixth spot – it will be a big one.”

Giles, the Oxted player-coach, agrees as his side looks to make inroads on the top flight heavyweights.

“We have been there and thereabouts and the biggest thing is how we close the gap on the top two or three and what we need to do to get there,” says Giles.

“Knowing we have been at the top of the bottom six two seasons running we have been pretty similarly poised. We are where we expect to be but we hope to push on this time.”

After losing out to East Grinstead and Reading in the past two seasons for that Top 6 berth after Christmas, Giles says it could come down to goal difference again, with Southgate +6 better off over Oxted. A win at the weekend looks crucial.

“The Top 6 is the first half season objective,” he admits. “We will be the underdog should we be where we want to be. It will suit us being in that bracket.

“But we can’t think about the next action and we have to be diligent about one game at a time. It’s an elite mentality that the top teams have and, for us, we have to put ourselves in the best position to take points at Southgate.”

Sunday: Southgate v Oxted, 6pm

by England Hockeyl

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