SEVENOAKS got off to a decent start at the Maxinutrition Hockey Fives Indoor Premier League.
The Kent side were the only team to feature in the tournament who do not compete in the National league outdoor structure, but they travelled with a squad full of experience at this level, with Mike Holland, Richard Payne, Ben Payne and Giles Dakin all having learnt their trade at five-time consecutive champions East Grinstead.
Oaks bolstered their numbers with Swedish international Henry Eriksson and Welsh international Owain Dolan Gray.
Relegated from the division two years ago, Sevenoaks were hoping the knowledge and experience of that brief foray against the top sides in England would hold them in good stead and they did well, with one win and two draws from the first weekend of hockey.
The opening game for Sevenoaks was against Bowdon, the side Oaks had beaten in the last 16 of the outdoor cup earlier this season. The team from Manchester came out the blocks firing and within two minutes they were 2-0 up, giving Sevenoaks a wake-up call.
Oaks gradually began to work their way back into the game and one of their two pairs of brothers, Nick and Chris Barker, got a goal apiece to draw the sides level at 2-2.
The second half continued to be an even affair with both sides creating chances and Sevenoaks added to their tally with goals from George Torry, Ben Payne and Eriksson. Bowdon also added to their tally, and with 20 seconds remaining the score was 6-5 to the Northern side, and they had a penalty corner to make it 7-5.
However, a great save on the line by Mike Holland led to a counterattack for Sevenoaks and with three-hundredths of a second left on the clock Eriksson was felled by the Bowdon keeper giving Oaks a penalty stroke, which Richard Payne converted to make the full time score 6-6.
Sevenoaks built on the point earned against Bowdon on Saturday morning with a comfortable 5-2 win over Doncaster.
Goals from Ben Payne and Eriksson gave Oaks a 2-0 lead at half time. The lead could have been larger had the width of the woodwork not denied Torry on four occasions. After the interval a sublime lob by the Doncaster forward pulled them back to within one goal, but it would not spark off a greater comeback, largely thanks to a fantastic penalty stroke save by Giles Dakin to keep Sevenoaks ahead. Further goals for Sevenoaks from Holland, Richard Payne and Nick Barker, and a consolation for Doncaster, made the full time score 5-2 to Sevenoaks.
On Sunday morning, Sevenoaks played big-spending Holcombe, a side containing England captain Barry Middleton and other internationals. In a tough opening period Sevenoaks found themselves 3-1 down, with Chris Barker getting the Sevenoaks goal.
After half-time a questionable umpiring decision led to a fourth goal for Holcombe and a sin bin for Mike Holland for his protests. Down to four men, Holcombe punished Sevenoaks extending their lead to 6-1. Chasing the game Oaks removed their goalkeeper Dakin and played with five outfield players, and this was working as first Torry scored a fine open play goal and then added to this with a penalty corner strike to make the score 6-3.
With momentum in their favour Oaks were derailed when a loose tackle by Torry saw him sin-binned, and with the numerical advantage Holcombe added two more goals to round off an 8-3 defeat for Sevenoaks.
In the final game of the weekend, Sevenoaks earned another point but will feel disappointed not to have taken all three against Loughborough Students, settling for a 4-4 draw.
A poor start by Oaks saw them 1-0 down early on, but a tap in from Richard Payne levelled the scores after good work from Torry. Loughborough, clearly fired up after a 16-1 defeat to Reading, took the lead again to make it 2-1. Just before half time a well worked penalty corner from Oaks saw Chris Barker levelled the scores at 2-2. The second half was an end to end affair with Oaks taking the lead through Nick Barker before Dakin in the Oaks goal again had to save a penalty stroke to keep Sevenoaks ahead. The lead didn't last long though as a loose pass from Richard Payne gifted the ball to the Loughborough forward who made no mistake for 3-3. With only two minutes remaining a Torry penalty corner made it 4-3 and it looked like Sevenoaks would take the three points, but a tired touch from Chris Barker let in the Loughborough forward who beat Dakin to make the full time score 4-4.
The results leave Sevenoaks standing on five points in fifth position in the table ahead of the next weekend of action on January 4 and 5. There, Oaks take on heavyweights of the indoor game East Grinstead, Reading, Beeston and Canterbury.