Purley’s traditional end of season surge has started and Reading were grateful to slip away from Surrey with a last-gasp win.
Wildcats skipper Paul Milner scored in the dying seconds to claim an 8-7 victory after Purely had clawed their way back from 7-3 down.
The former multiple-champions are masters at avoiding the drop and will be hugely encouraged by the performance despite remaining winless and rooted to the bottom.
“We are always hopeful,” said Purley’s Tom Hatton, who scored twice. “Reading led the whole game and were 7-3 up going into the final quarter but we played well to bring it back to 7-7.
“The pitch was muddy and messy and there were big hits by both teams. We were very pleased with the comeback but then we got caught by a classic Paul Milner face dodge and goal to lose it at the death.”
Milner commented: “It was absolute war in horrific conditions but a lot of fun. Purley pulled it back but we got the winner with less than two minutes on the clock.”
Bristol Bombers also showed fight at the foot of the table with a 7-6 home win over East Grinstead who travelled with a lighter squad.
“We started with no warm-up and as a result we were very slow off the mark, and couldn’t get ourselves in the game for the first half,” said EG skipper Andy Price.
“Bristol were looking a lot more comfortable in possession and their keeper made some very good saves to keep them out in front.”
EG improved in the second half but struggled to get back level after conceding a string of penalties.
“Credit to Bristol though who played organised and kept the pressure on us from the off,” added Price. “Hopefully we can put this result behind us before a big game tomorrow vs Cardiff in preparation for the semi-final next week.”
The top of the table clash saw 1st place Spencer triumph over 2nd place Hillcroft and take a huge stride to retaining the title.
Co-captain Joe Darkins scored a hat-trick and Spencer ran out 9-6 victors on the back of an impressive defensive display that shackled Hillcroft’s potent midfield and attack. See match of the day below.
Title contenders Hampstead, whose game v Blues was cancelled last week, have a crucial away fixture at Reading this Saturday where only a win will keep up their pursuit of Spencer.
East Grinstead will need a confidence booster against Cardiff as they head to the Flags semi on a poor run.
Bristol Bombers 7 – 6 East Grinstead
Hillcroft 6- 9 Spencer
Purley7 – 8 Reading
Bristol Bombers v Blues
East Grinstead v Harlequins
Hitchin v Hillcroft
Reading v Hampstead
Spencer v Purley
MATCH OF THE DAY
Spencer pushed themselves closer to the title with a clinical win at 2nd placed Hillcroft.
The home team hustled and hung in for all four quarters but the Earlsfield club put in a champions-standard performance fashioned from a steel curtain defence and scalpel-sharp attack.
Their D swarmed over Hillcroft’s attack, disrupting set plays and forcing them away from danger areas to take the sting out of a normally potent offence.
Hillcroft won the first face and menaced Rick Bone’s goal for three minutes but they couldn’t find a clear opportunity before turning the ball over.
Spencer needed a few attempts to break out of defence after an effective ride from the home team but Spencer opened the scoring on their first possession when Ollie Prescott found Joe Darkins on the doorstep on five minutes.
They were two up three minutes later when Rob Holmes arrowed a cross-crease pass to Darkins who got his strike away before being dumped.
The game settled down with shared possession but Hillcroft failed to locate passes too many times to cause the visitors any great alarms.
A crisp, passing phase was finished off by Prescott as Spencer hitched on to a rhythm and a 3-0 lead.
Hillcroft came closest when defender Andy Hopkinson unleashed a laser that pinged off the top of the post. The D-man stayed up front for a man up but Rick Bone saved two bullets, one with an athletic dive.
The first quarter finished 3-0 to the visitors with Hillcroft in need of some fluency.
Bone was on duty early on in the 2nd quarter but he couldn’t stop a clever feed to the hard-working Zak Jordan who had found space in front of goal. They were pegged back though when Prescott nailed his second, crashing through the heart of the defence to take a feed on the run and blast his shot home.
With the home team losing the arm wrestle with the Spencer D, it was another Prescott – Hillcroft defender Andrew – to set the example as he finished clinically after a sweeping clear and finding himself in unchartered waters in front of goal.
Hillcroft finished the quarter the stronger and hit a more familiar groove and skipper Eoin Dunne came close after connecting with a sharp feed from Brian Potter.
Spencer had enjoyed more possession and threat but had failed to pull decisively clear so it was delicately poised at 2-4 going into the 3rd quarter.
Hillcroft keeper Matt O’Leary was soon under intense fire as Spencer upped the pressure and he saved well from Darkins and Holmes, who then fired in a blistering worm-burning shot.
Spencer were starting to purr with Resham Panesar, Rob Arnott and Dom Sandy connecting both ends of the pitch with great transition play. Darkins got his third thanks to some patient play from Ed Shee who probed up top before unlocking the killer pass.
The quarter closed with defender Tom Leahy firing in from a Panesar feed for what felt like a goal too far for Hillcroft.
A well-worked team move on a man-up saw Darkins feed Holmes who clipped his shot into the top corner and they were out of sight when Shee fired in a high shot after finding a chink in Hillcroft’s tiring defence.
There was plenty of fight left in the home team who refused to stay down on the canvas. Even though it was far from a well-oiled performance they battled on and were rewarded by another D goal with Tom Loake taking a clear through half way, beyond the restrainer and a smart shot to make it 3-9 with nine minutes left.
Brilliant work from Dunne to salvage a ground ball under two-man pressure, initiated a swift move to Tom Paton who found Potter on the crease where he seldom misses. 4-9 with five minutes to go.
Both teams hit the pipe and as the game drew to a close, Potter delivered a behind the back feed to Dunne who crashed his shot in. They had a 6th when Thom Gilbrook picked up a low pass and shot quickly with ten seconds left.
But Spencer left deserved victors and with a game template that will withstand some pressure.
Q Scores: 0-3/2-4/2-7/6-9
Hillcroft: Potter, Jordan, Hopkinson, Loake, Dunne, Prescott
Spencer: Darkins 3, Holmes 2, Prescott 2, Leahy, Shee