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SEMLA – Premiership Week 1 Report

Written by: Danny Buckland
Photo Credit: Lippen Photography

A goal cavalcade as SEMLA’s 2014/15 season burst into life with just two short of a century of goals getting banged in. Big wins for Reading, Hitchin and title favourites Spencer illuminated the results board and set the ball rolling for an intriguing campaign. The back-of-the-net bonanza shows the firepower the big guns have and the challenges defences will have throughout the season.

Champions Blues, however, were involved in a tough scrap with Hampstead who are shaking off the scales of last year’s disaster like a monster rising from the deep.“Anyone who underestimates Hampstead based on last season is going to be in for a surprise,” said Blues skipper Dave Cluney after his side earned an 8-6 victory at the Clockhouse.

Ewan Willsmer and Nabeel Chaudry got Blues rolling and then Pete Ross made it 3-0 but the Men in Black fought to stay in touch even though Ross netted again and Matt Paul scored on his welcome 1st team comeback.

It was 5-3 to the home team at half time and stunning goal from Loughborough longpole recruit Ed Simkin-Byrne illuminated the game as he won possession, sprinted the length of the field and dished to Dave Howie whose shot hit both pipes and rebounded into the still motoring defenders stick to pop home an audacious goal.

“We have a strong squad with fierce competition for places,” added Cluney. “It was a high intensity game and showed that we have room for improvement but I expect us to get better .“Hampstead outscored us in the final quarter and they are a team that should be respected.”

Hampstead had a small army of absentees and took to the field with four rookies. “It was a loss but it was encouraging,” said Dennis Tobin. “We were playing against and experienced, well coached and fit team where as we were getting together for the first time. “Blues played with discipline and consistency and are clearly championship contenders.”

Hampstead’s rustiness resulted in ten turnovers, three that resulted in quick goals, but Tobin is convinced that the team can gel and improve through the season.

Spencer blazed 19 unanswered past Welwyn as their stellar line up gelled instantly. The Earlsfield outfit will be delighted that ten different scorers got on the scoresheet as they assimilate five new players.

“Our defence was tight and didn’t give up many shots while some dominant work on the midfield ground balls and a strong performance from their goalie kept the score down,” said co-captain Rob Holmes. “Our new LDO, Eddie Vita slotted in well and along with 5 other new faces we made some good progress with some really good team goals. “We are expecting a really tough game at Hampstead this coming Saturday and will be working hard to be ready for it.”

Warriors skipper George Breese was philosophical. “They’re a strong team and I would have been naive to think the result would have been different,” he said. “We had a few new players who all worked hard and the team got better as the game went on so I’m relatively happy with how the day went. Spencer are a great team and played with class and sportsmanship throughout.”

Welwyn host Hitchin in the first leg of the always hotly-contested Herts derby this Saturday and Breese is convinced his team can build on the periods of good play they enjoyed in south London.

They will find Rhodri Stanford’s boys in rampant form after a 24-4 crushing of Purley with Dave Leech starting his ‘low profile’ season with 8 goals and 4 assists. “We went out with a defensive game plan to pressure them and caused a lot of turnovers, and controlled pretty much all face off ball,” said Stanford.

“Offensively we went for a freeplay approach, but we are one of teams that can either look brilliant when we play like that or completely implode. Fortunately this weekend it looked good. “Wavey couldn’t stop being in the right place at the right time. It was a masterclass in sneakyness.”

Stanford bagged 4 himself with Alan Croft and Mike Halliwell getting hat-tricks while Adam Grey and Jon Mills hit 2 each. Purley were delighted to get two teams out for the first time in 25 years – with their A team recording an E3 victory – but stretching resources had an impact and captain David Copple admitted: “It was a poor result for us. Hitchin were efficient and we know we have to play better.”

Reading were the other big scorers, slotting in a comprehensive 20-6 win at Bristol but the Bombers kept in close early on and were only 5-3 down at the quarter. A 7-goal fusillade from LDO Brendon McCann and four goals each for Paul Milner and former Bomber Dom Sandy lead the scoring stats.

Nick Acutt, another ex Bomber, was influential at face off and scored a brace. “We managed to shake the rust quite quickly,” said captain Milner. “We have a lot of new, young players so it was important to find our rhythm early. We slowly took control and the score continued to grow while the defense settled down and held Bristol to one goal in each of the last 3 quarters.

“Full credit to Bristol as they kept fighting the entire game and it felt like a lot closer match than it was. They have a lot of guys new to the Prem this year and I am sure they will adapt fast.”

Bristol will be shrugging it off and targeting the trip to East Grinstead as instant medicine for the defeat. “It was a tough start to the season – a very mixed performance; first and third quarters were close, but in the second and fourth we got sloppy, and conceded a couple of sets of quick-fire goals,” said Bristol’s Silas Voelcker-Benson.

“Reading’s finishing was very polished and they really capitalised on our mistakes. At the other end, we weren’t able to do the same. We did hold onto the ball for extended periods, but unfortunately lacked the cutting edge. “Debutants Jamie Caldwell (GK) and Alistair Bradford both performed well with Ali popping up to score from X.”

East Grinstead will also be looking for their first points after going down to a narrow 7-4 defeat at Hillcroft. They have lost key players across the side but have called up reserves and recruited to try to plug the gaps. Hillcroft captain Eoin Dunne was pleased with the winning start for a side that has also been restructured and has genuine title aspirations.

“We had MVP outings for two new players in Tom Loake and John Goodwin, who both made a big impact on the defensive end with solid defense and excellent ground ball work,” he said. “Harry Collins stepped up in his first game as vice-captain leading all scorers with two great individual tallies and some outstanding work between the midfield lines. “With our existing base and new players we are looking to build our chemistry week on week and this early game gave the indications of good things to come.”

Week 1 – Premiership Results
Bristol Bombers 6 – 20
Reading Hillcroft 7 – 4 East Grinstead
Hitchin 24 – 4 Purley Spencer 19 – 0
Welwyn Blues 8 – 6 Hampstead

Week 2 – Premiership Fixtures
East Grinstead v Bristol Bombers
Hampstead v Spencer
Purley v Hillcroft
Reading v Blues
Welwyn v Hitchin