SEMLA – Spencer snatch glory in thriller

Spencer will play Blues in the SEMLA Flags Final after a day of high drama at Hampstead ended in heartache for the home team.

A whipcrack shot from Rob Holmes in the dying seconds of the 2nd period of sudden death overtime gave them victory in a pulsating encounter at the Westway.

The tension was electrifying in the final stanzas of a Flags epic as both teams slugged it out for a win.

It was sport at its finest and most crushing as Hampstead’s hopes were left in tatters by the knife-edge loss. (see match of the day report below)

The Final, on Saturday April 9, will be a repeat of last year’s absorbing clash which Spencer won 5-3.

It gives the Earlsfield club a chance to move into joint second place in the Flags winning streak stakes, with Purley if they claim their fifth title in a row. The mighty Lee club, now defunct, won it six times from 1970 to 75.

Blues had to weather a ferocious fightback from East Grinstead to claim their final place but eventually triumphed 8-5 with goals from James Kidd doing serious damage at crucial points of the game.

He scored twice in the 1st quarter to settle the Blues and help them push out to a 4-0 lead in game that always going to be close.

Matt Birkett and Tomo Rosser had a competitive duel at face off but East Grinstead struggled to convert possession into goal threats and finished the first half still four goals adrift at 1-5.

They responded well in the second half and disrupted Blues’ rhythm but the visitors still held a commanding 7-2 lead late into the 3rd quarter. With Conor Dockery providing incisive play, the home team started to find the chinks in the Blues armour and got back into the game in the 4th quarter with a blend of composure and aggression.

They had hauled themselves back to 5-7 as Blues spilled possession in the nervy closing minutes but Ewan Wilsmer sealed the deal with a late goal that guarantees them a trip to Reading.

“I’m really proud of what we accomplished today,” said captain Stuart McGregor Dallas, after returning between the pipes from injury. “Aside from a loss of focus towards the end of the match against an offense that, on the day rarely troubled us, we really showed our worth today

“Some brilliant goals from the attack left no question that we will not simply roll over for Spencer this year in the final. Undefeated since the Christmas break and with almost everyone fit again, the boys in blue will be heading to Reading quietly confident.”

EG skipper Andy Price praised Blues and their blitz start to the game. “They came out the blocks firing and built a quick lead, moving our defense very well, “ he said.

“We struggled with the final ball in attack, hitting the post several times and being denied by Stu who made some great saves to keep them out in the lead.

“In the second half we began our fightback, and linked together to score some nice goals with joint M.o.M performances from Conor Dockery in attack who created a lot of movement and opportunities, and Tomo Rosser on the face winning the majority of possession and bagging a couple of goals.

“In the end we just couldn’t find the target enough times and Blues deserved the win. But the team performance in the second half was excellent all round.”

The only league game saw Reading continue their surge with a 10-6 win in Cardiff.

MATCH OF THE DAY – Hampstead 11 – 12 Spencer – After Double Sudden Death Overtime

It was billed as the game of the season and it delivered with a gut-twisting climax and a Himalayan gulf of emotion as Rob Holmes hit the winner with seconds to spare.

The agony and ecstasy was obvious as a purple rain of sticks and gloves engulfed Holmes while Hampstead players sank to their knees with crushing disappointment.

The game sizzled with commitment, which at times compromised the fluidity but high skill levels and attacking zeal coursed through a memorable game that built with intensity by the minute.

Sensational stick work and twisting running lines were met by aggressive and intelligent, co-ordinated defence and goalkeepers Rick Bone and Brian Vandenbossche each had a highlight reel of saves.

Both teams scored memorable goals that had spectators at the Westway purring with delight.

Two periods of overtime couldn’t separate the SEMLA titans and it looked like the game may even have to go to a replay as the second period of sudden death overtime wound down and Hampstead pitch booking expired.

But Holmes’s trademark sling shot gave the visitors victory and a golden ticket to the Flags Final and the chance to win the honours for the fifth time on the bounce.

There was little sign of the drama to come in a first quarter dominated by slick Spencer. With a flick of a switch, they were in a groove that looked ominous. The ball fizzed around Hampstead’s cage and within 90 seconds Will Walker sneaked from X and scored with a one-handed reverse shot.

There was an easy, practiced synchronicity about their work while Hampstead were clanging around in first gear.

Holmes got his first on five minutes after Joe Darkins found him in space and the signs weren’t good for Hampstead whose first goal threat came from Johnny Moore who hit the post on nine minute. Spencer were 3 up when Freddie Evans got up a head of steam and bull-dozed on an arc from X before whipping in a shot.

Vandenbossche saved well from Holmes as Spencer raided in waves but he could do nothing as Holmes picked out Ollie Prescott crashing through the cover and scoring on the run.

Hampstead needed a time-out to stop their heads spinning and put a brake on the rampant Flags’ holders.

Spencer’s passing was crisp and threatening while Hampstead were rushed and disjointed and heading for a very painful afternoon at 0-4 at the end of Q1.

Scottish international Resham Panesar hit the pipe with a sizzling shot as Hampstead struggled to get a foothold in the second quarter. They did work a good chance on the crease but Bone spotted the danger early and was perfectly placed to parry the shot. It was the first of many crucial saves.

Darkins made it 5-0 after latching onto a Holmes feed and bravely scoring on the turn as the Hampstead defence closed in.

Spencer were the sharper but Hampstead were settling down and enjoying more time in their opponents half and Matt Hillman got them going after seizing on broken play to shoot low on 38 minutes – you’d have to turn a lot of pages in the history books to find a date when the Men in Black were kept at bay for that long.

With ten seconds left in the half, Brendan McCann, the former Colgate and Reading attacker, found Will Pickett and hope was rekindled for Hampstead. 2-5 at half time.

Was the game turning? Six minutes in to Q3 and Spencer suggested not as a classy clear initiated by co-captain Tom Leahy ran through a sweet and sharp passing phase via Darkins to former Mellor man Evans who picked a corner.

It was the signal for the game to hit overdrive with lung-bursting changes of territory from blistering defensive breaks, sweeping attacks and end to end action as seven goals were notched in 13 breathless minutes.

Pickett found McCann who muscled into a shooting lane and powered his shot home. Spencer hit back with a fast break classic after face off supremo Nick Acutt won it clean, delivered it to Panesar who swiftly found LSM Tom Roche who gleefully rifled in a shot. 3-7.

But Spencer started to show signs of wear and tear and were running into penalty trouble. Hampstead duly profited from a 2-man up 30 seconds for McCann to make it 4-7. They got even closer a minute later when Moore connected with Hillman who used his angles well to drive in a shot. But with three minutes of the quarter left Walker released Dom Sandy who placed a clever shot into left corner and the three-goal lead was restored.

Hampstead were now motoring with McCann drawing doubles and attacker Alex Adler finding unmarked players with sharp feeds. Their passing and movement started to dislocate the hugely impressive Spencer defence – which had been sliding with lightning pace and precision to snuff out danger – and Hillman got another and then, as the quarter closed, Hayato Muramatsu made it a one goal game.

Spencer’s fluency was faltering and a string of penalties forced them into uncharacteristic scruffy play. Hampstead, meanwhile, were playing downhill.

The holders settled well at the start of a tension-filled final quarter and Panesar got them going with a crisp shot after two minutes that was well saved and then Walker repeated his sneak move from X to make it 7-10.

The irrepressible Hillman pulled it straight back, accelerating off a pick which provided enough angle for a cross-goal shot.

Errors were creeping into the game and both teams were guilty of wasting possessions with poor options but McCann got his third with a superb solo goal, evading a swift double team, to blast the game wide open – 9-10 with five minutes to go.

Another penalty gave them the chance to level the game which they gratefully accepted when Adler hooked up to McCann who had enough time to plant a fierce shot in the corner.

With two minutes left, not even Paddy Power was picking a winner. Both teams had possessions and Bone needed to be alert to stop Pickett with 15 seconds to go and overtime knocking but it ended all square.

Acutt’s face-off potency was crucial as the teams battled through the extra periods yet it was Walker again, with a cleverly picked low shot, that gave Spencer the edge a minute into the first period.

Hampstead laboured to fashion a clear chance but a stray pass was hoovered up by Pickett who scored with an extravagant behind the back shot in the final second of the first four minutes.

The teams looked edgy as fatigue started to degrade athletic ambition but Vandenbossche still had to save well from Holmes and Bone returned the compliment on McCann.

A Spencer time-out with ten seconds to go increased the nail-biting but failed to produce a killer move.

The first sudden death overtime passed nervously with no clear chances and, with a posse of footballers anxious to get their slot on the pitch, it looked like the game may even be forced into a replay. But they happily agreed for the drama to continue.

It was stalemate again with both teams unable to convert on man ups but as the period closed a Spencer raid got the ball to the hot hands of Holmes in his favourite position wide right and he had enough time to set his feet and then the muscle memory took over and the ball arrowed into the top right corner.

Agony and ecstasy.

The skill levels, team work, physical endeavour and refusal to take a backward step were a fantastic advert for SEMLA lacrosse and both teams deserve high praise for serving up a classic that was played in excellent spirits.

Quater Scores: 0-4 / 2-5 / 7-8 / 10-10 / 11-11 / 11-12
Spencer: Will Walker 3, Rob Holmes, 3 Freddie Evans 2, Joe Darkins, Ollie Prescott, Tom Roche. Dom Sandy.
Hampstead: Brendan McCann 4, Matt Hillman 4, Will Pickett 2, Muramatsu