Wimbledon head coach Ben Hawes is confident going into their Premier League play-off and Euro Hockey League matches as his side reach crunch time in the season.
They take on Holcombe, who finished the regular season unbeaten, on April 16 at Lee Valley in the play-off semi finals but before that, travel to AH&BC Amsterdam in the last 16 of the Euro Hockey League, this Saturday.
But despite the challenging fixture in their European debut, Hawes is excited to be playing against the best.
He said: “It’s going to be tough, we’re playing a quality team on their home ground but it is an exciting opportunity and the first time the club has been in Europe so it’s a great thing for us.
“We’ve tried not to think about it too much throughout the season as it’s always been on the horizon. Now it’s close the guys are excited about getting over there.
“The main thing will be for us to put in a good performance and not be overawed by the occasion.”
After their battle with Amsterdam, Hawes will quickly turn his attention to Holcombe, who strolled to a top-place finish winning 13 and drawing five of their league matches, and comfortably beat Wimbledon 5-3 and 3-1 along the way.
Hawes knows his opponents pose a dangerous threat with the likes of England and GB internationals Ashley Jackson, who has 124 goals in 217 internationals, and Barry Middleton with 100 goals in 360 caps.
Holders Wimbledon ended up fourth in the regular season but are in good form, winning their last three, and the head coach is adamant his side is capable of high-level performance.
He said: “I am confident, I know if we play to our potential and ability we can beat anyone in the league.
“I’m confident that if we can get everyone in the right mental and physical shape we can do the business but it has been a challenge to deliver so far this season.
“We know it will be a difficult match, they have a fantastic side with a spine made up of internationals. Jackson and Middleton will obviously be key but they have also won without them.
“They are clearly a well-knit team who are well organised and their so-called lesser players have stepped up when it has mattered, which is where we have suffered.”
Summing up his season, Hawes said it has been mixed so far and having six players who train full-time with GB, hasn’t helped matters.
He said: “We’ve been a bit up and down this season. We have suffered from the inability to train brilliantly with international players being in and out of the side but we were aware of this at the start of the season.
“It hampers everyone who has international players but it is a part of life in the Premier League in an Olympic year so it is something we accept.
“It’s a shame we couldn’t finish third as now we have a tough game in the play-offs. Our first aim was to finish in the top four so we have reached our first goal and we are relatively happy.
“The hard work starts here to be competitive for the play-offs and Europe.”
After their European clash and a potential quarter-final tie on March 27 or 28, Wimbledon will have to wait three weeks before facing Holcombe in mid-April.
However, Hawes doesn’t think the break will pose much of a problem.
He said: “We will have our regular training sessions and put together a few friendly games to keep them match sharp.
“The internationals train full time anyway but it’s about making sure there’s not too big a gap between them and the rest of the squad.
“It hampers everyone the same but we do have a highly competitive game in-between. It’s not ideal but everyone has known about it right from the start of the season.
“It is what it is and there nothing we can do about it.”
Image courtesy of Will Burton, with thanksw