Reading Wildcats scored an impressive victory over title-chasing Hampstead as the SEMLA season hits it crucial phase.
The 13-12 triumph – Reading’s 6th win this year by a single goal – elevates them into 2nd spot and holes Hampstead’s chances of catching the now clear leaders Spencer.
The lead changed hands several times in a controversial and sparky match-up but Wildcats’ skipper Paul Milner was a dead-eye in front of goal hitting the next six times. The haul comes a week after he clinched a victory against Purley with a last minute strike and every one of them was needed as Kyle Witt scored five for the visitors.
There was another win for Cardiff at East Grinstead and both Hillcroft and Blues won on the road at Hitchin and Bristol, respectively. Spencer cruised to victory over Purely.
The title dent in Hampstead’s body work could prove a timely incentive as they face off against Spencer in the Flags semi final, one of the most eagerly awaited games of the season, on Saturday.
The game is one of SEMLA’s Super Saturday with Blues travelling to East Grinstead for the other semi and the 100th Varsity being played out at The Parks, in Oxford.
It also marks the start of a fortnight that will go a long way to defining who will be up on the honours board as Hampstead and Spencer clash again in the league on March 12.
Spencer had an easy ride against an under-strength Purley and co-captain Tom Leahy said: “This was a really important game for us to play to keep our momentum going, and huge thanks to Purley for still fulfilling the fixture with a depleted squad.”
The semi, at the Westway at 1pm, is a re-run of last year’s controversial encounter that was won by Hampstead but reversed on a player eligibility rule which enabled Spencer to continue to the Final and beat Blues.
If both teams can field full squads and play to their potential, it should be the game of the season as both have electrifying offensive units and steely defences.
East Grinstead need to pull themselves out of a three-game losing slump when they entertain Blues on the other side of the draw. They lost 8-2 to Cardiff but skipper Andy Price promised his team would come out fighting.
“Cardiff played us well and despite our decent spells of possession we couldn’t find the target in offense,” he said. “They countered us effectively and worked some nice goals, but a difficult loss to take after last game vs Bristol and then in preparation for this weekend.
“We have one or two injuries but we are looking forward to the game and hopefully we can put the last few weeks behind us and turn our attitude around and come out fighting.”
Blues triumphed 13-5 in blustery Bristol and will welcome captain Stuart McGregor Dallas back between the pipes for the Flags semi after a thumb injury.
With defender Toby Martlew in goal, they raced out to a 5-0 lead in the 1st quarter but the Bombers fought back doggedly and halted the deluge to 6-0 at halftime. Bristol put the pressure on with two quick goals in Q3 and it needed strikes from Ewan Wilsmer, who got five on the day, and Pete Ross to settle the nerves and ensure a 13-5 victory.
“We needed some stirring words from vice captain Dave Howie to wake us up going into the fourth and we responded magnificently,” said McGregor Dallas, who watched from the touchline.
“Bristol fought hard in the second and third quarters to make our job very difficult. Full credit to Toby who bravely stepped up and played in goal and did a great job. We are all now looking forward to the Flags semi final at EG.”
Hillcroft are third after a close run 10-8 victory at Hitchin who were rusty from a month of postponed games. “It was a decent game all in all,” said skipper Rhod Stanford. “Hillcroft were better at retaining possession in offence but both teams were guilty of not being clinical in front of goal. You could tell we hadn’t had a game in over a month.”
The real table changer was Reading’s win over Hampstead who are now in fourth and needing to win their three games in hand and beat Spencer in the league encounter to have a chance of claiming the title.
“It was a pretty remarkable game with the lead changing a number of times and some controversy,” said Miler. “I thought it was a fantastic game of lacrosse. We started strong and went 2-0 and then 3-1 up to take an early lead but then Hampstead roared back and we were suddenly 5-3 down at the end of the first quarter.”
Both sides called stick checks as the tension mounted but the game was poised at 7-7 at half time.
Wildcats face-off Nick Henderson-Williams possession was quickly turned into goals but a 3rd quarter meltdown by the home team saw Hamsptead score four unanswered goals to take a 11-7 lead.
Reading blitzed back and made it 11-9 going into the final quarter and then levelled it with a quick goal and then another on a man-up after a stick check chalked off Witt’s 6th goal.
They scored the next two to make it 13-11 and the visitors could only manage another as Reading saw out the game with possession
“Will Stott was magnificent in attack with 1 goal and 6 assists and we had 7 different scorers in total,” added Milner. “Scarily enough, 6 of our 7 wins this season have been by 1 goal. Our season could have been completely different and we would be in serious trouble had those swung the other way. But when it gets to the 4th quarter and the game is close I have absolute faith in my team being able to pull off the win.”
Bristol 5 – 13 Blues
East Grinstead 2 – 8 Cardiff
Hitchin 8 – 10 Hillcroft
Reading 13 – 12 Hampstead
Spencer 24 – 2 Purley
Senior Flags Semi Final
Hampstead v Spencer
East Grinstead v Blues
Cardiff v Reading
Oxford v Cambridge