National League has some juicy fixtures and Scottish Cup gets underway

Grange meet Grove Menzieshill this weekend – Photo Duncan Gray

Grange`s title aspirations come under early scrutiny when Grove Menzieshill, who finished third in last season`s men’s National League campaign, come calling at Fettes for the game of the card this weekend.

The Taysiders will hope to be in the mix at the final denouement of this season`s league championship, and they are almost certain to influence its outcome. Grove Menzieshill, now under the aegis of Gavin Byers, won their opening game 3-1 against city rivals Dundee Wanderers. Byers said: “We were delighted to get off to a winning start against Wanderers, it`s always a tough game against them. We had a few injuries so we were missing two regulars and had two boys making their debuts. We played better as the game progressed, which was pleasing and finished strongly.”

Byers knows that Grange away could be a much harder nut to crack. Last season Grove Menzieshill went to Fettes and lost the game 4-1. “Grange are always a difficult team to break down, a very strong unit who play good hockey,” said Byers. “They will be looking to bag corners with Dan Coultas now flicking, but they have threats from all over. We will have to be right on it if we are to take a positive result away from this game.”

Although Grange got the better of Grove Menzieshill in most of the head-to-heads last season, Grange coach David Knipe is aware of the Tayside challenge. “Grove Menzieshill have some great players but also play well as a team,” Knipe said. “It should be a good game between two pretty even sides.”

Bromac Kelburne`s initial progress towards their 14th consecutive league title started with a 5-1 win over Inverleith, and they’ll hope to continue with a similar style of victory at Clydesdale. Inverleith had no answer to the wiles of Michael and Johnny Christie, it will be a challenge for the Titwood outfit to fare any better. It’s a challenging start for Clydesdale`s new coach Callum McLeod, meeting first Grange and now Kelburne on the trot.

The final top four side of last year, Western Wildcats, also started the campaign off with a win over Hillhead, albeit courtesy of a late strike by Matt McGinley. This weekend`s encounter with Uddingston could be another cliff hanger.

The Lanarkshire side had a very up and down record last season but they just missed out on fourth spot by whisker in the end. Their piece de resistance was a 2-1 victory over champions Kelburne towards the end of the campaign, two penalty corner strikes by Steven Percy did the damage.

Edinburgh University start their season with a local derby against Inverleith. However, Inverleith coach Stuart Neave may be working on penalty corners over the last week, his side carved out five second half set pieces against Kelburne but failed to find the target with any of them.

Graham Moodie, Edinburgh University`s coach, has a challenging task in front of him. “With such a big turnover of players and losing three Scotland Senior Internationals, realistically it’ll be a re-building year for us.”

Departed are Jamie Wong and goakeeper Dave Forrester to Holland and France respectively, while Dan Coultas has moved across Edinburgh to Grange.

“We have been able to attract a number of high potential young players, which is extremely exciting, but it’ll take some time for everyone to gel and we will need to be patient but learn quickly,” Moodie said.

The coach has quoted eight newcomers to the students` ranks, including Simon Blaschke from Berlin.

The final fixture on the card sees Dundee Wanderers entertain Hillhead on Tayside, this could be a close contest.

Sunday sees the first round of the Scottish Cup with a couple of juicy ties to savour. Second division sides with home advantage against top flight opposition may feel they have nothing to lose – that is the scenario facing AAM Gordonians and Granite City Wanderers who square up against Dundee Wanderers and Clydesdale respectively.

Hillhead play Dundee Wanderers this weekend – Photo by Duncan Gray

Women’s National League 1

In women`s National League 1 the Dundee pair Grove Menzieshill and Dundee Wanderers, who drew 3-3 in a thriller last weekend, will not want to drop any more points at this early stage in the season.

Wanderers may fancy their chances at home against Hillhead while Grove Menzieshill travel to Edinburgh to face newly promoted Grange, who were on the wrong end of a 7-1 defeat at the hands of Western last weekend. Both of these ties have the potential to be high-scoring and action-packed.

Early pace-setters Milne Craig Clydesdale Western will look to hold on to top spot with another convincing victory against Kelburne at Titwood, especially after striking seven times last weekend.

Wildcats required a single strike by Alex Stuart to see off Hillhead at Auchenhowie last weekend, Kaz Cuthbert`s charges will be out to maintain their winning record against GHK at Old Anniesland. The home side will be looking to recover from their 5-1 defeat last weekend and get their first points on the board.

However, champions Edinburgh University could have a tricky assignment away to Watsonians. While the students started the defence of their title in that convincing 5-1 win against GHK, Watsonians have also been showing a bit of form.

Watsonians finished strongly in the league at the end of last season, and beat the champions 1-0 at their own tournament a couple of weeks ago, Heather Tait was on target that day.

Also the Edinburgh side started their campaign with a 2-0 win away at Kelburne, but the question is – have Watsonians the firepower to take on Sam Judge`s students and win on league business?

However, there is no doubting the Scottish Cup tie of the round – the clash between Wildcats and Western at Auchenhowie on Sunday.

Wildcats have made significant strides under Cuthbert`s watch over the past several seasons – they finished fourth last year, but they have still to break the monopoly of Edinburgh University, Grove Menzieshill and Western – perhaps Sunday will be the day.

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