Surbiton's chances of winning the Slazenger EHL National Premier Division all but disappeared when they lost their last fixture before the winter break 3-2 at Cannock on Sunday.

Having lost twice to last season's champions in finishing runners-up to them, albeit nine points behind, and crucially been held to a draw by them in the last game of the post-season Super Cup when victory would have brought them a place in Europe, Surbiton were determined to win this time.

The Elmbridge visitors had more than enough chances in both the opening and closing quarters to have done so, but failed to score from enough of them to record the win they desperately needed.

It was a doubly disappointing result in that the reigning champions were not only started without three key international players - Scott Cordon and captain Michael Johnson through injury and Andrew Langlands unavailable - but also a fourth - Andy West - was injured in the eighth minute and took no further part in the game.

Surbiton themselves were still without long-term injured internationals - keeper Jon Ebsworth and forward James Tindall - to whom was added defender Matt Lee with exam commitments.

But they welcomed back two internationals in captain Brett Garrard and defender James Wallis.

Despite their early dominance Surbiton conceded four first-half penalty corners, with Simon Ramsden and Andrew Brogdon scoring from the last two in the 22nd and 29th minutes respectively.

The game seemed settled four minutes after the interval when a fatal lack of concentration in the Surbiton defence allowed Hardeep Jawanda to deflect in a quickly-taken free hit for a 3-0 lead.

The visitors did force and fail to convert their first penalty corner seven minutes later, but it took a controversial ten-minute suspension of forward James Mulcair to reignite their fighting spirit.

After both teams were called off the field by their coaches while Cannock captain-for-the-day keeper James Fair and Surbiton were lectured by the two umpires, Surbiton, despite being a man down, suddenly rediscovered their early attacking flair and this time justice was done as Rob Moore's hard cross from the right was deflected into goal by Grice in the 54th minute.

When, within seconds of Surbiton being restored to full strength, Matt Daly flashed in Surbiton's next penalty corner high to Fair's left in the 59th minute, an unlikely recovery seemed on the cards.

But then Moore turned from hero to villain as some injudicious comments saw him banished for the last seven minutes.

Even then Surbiton took the game to their opponents and a series of crosses from the left just failed to find any Surbiton stick in front of a gaping goal.

When Daly's drag flick from Surbiton's third and final penalty corner of the game was brilliantly kept out by Fair's left glove the last chance of a remarkable comeback had disappeared.

The loss leaves Surbiton sixth in the 10-team elite league after nine games - eights points adrift of three joint leaders, but only four ahead of the eighth relegation play-off spot and six off the bottom two automatic relegation spots.

Their best chance of honours this season would appear to lie in the England Hockey Cup where they play National First Division stragglers Southgate in the fifth round of the last 16 at Sugden Road this Sunday, starting at 2pm.