Spencer consolidated their top spot with a tough win against a competitive Cardiff side who pushed the champions all the way. The Earlsfield club had no chance to bask in the glory of their win over Hampstead and the visitors showed the threat that runs deep into the Premier League.
Blues continue to build and came away from Sussex with a good 9-5 win over East Grinstead, who are their Flags semi final opponents in two weeks time.
Hillcroft, who host Spencer this Saturday, emerged triumphant from a tricky away trip to Reading but Purley saw little daylight as the Men in Black ran rampant to push Hampstead up the table.
Spencer now lead Hillcroft by four points and the Croft know that beating Spencer, and completing a rare double, is essential to their title ambitions.
“We can’t wait for this weekend,” said captain Eoin Dunnet. “To match ourselves against the top teams like Spencer and Hampstead is the reason we play. As always we’ll give it everything we have and I think we’ve proven we are a team to be reckoned with and not underestimated.
“Reading played well and made us work really hard throughout the game. We had good games from across the team and in particular Matt Tanner who came through with a couple of late goals. John Goodwin picked up his second man of the match for the season with a typically complete LSM performance.” The 9-6 win shows the grit is there to back up their flair and an 8-6 win at Spencer in November will reinforce their belief.
Wildcats skipper Paul Milner scored twice and attacker Dave Mosley made a welcome return from injury to grab a brace.
“It was a competitive but scrappy game played in ridiculously high winds,” said Milner. “We took an early lead, finishing well with superb ball movement but bit by bit we were pegged back and 6-5 down going into the last quarter we chased the game too much and were punished for it as Hillcroft ended as deserved winners.
“I can’t fault my team’s efforts and the defense, led by Spanish international Ion Rodriguez, was superb as was our goalie Liman Metolli.
Essentially we need to score more goals but we are still very much a work in progress.” Blues and East Grinstead had a cagey dress rehearsal for the Flags semis with the Banstead boys heading back with a 9-5 win although neither side believes it will be anything other than close on February 27.
Both keepers were in action early on but the first quarter finished 1-1 before two highlight goals from Welsh international Ryan Walker gave Blues the edge in a scrappy opening half that ended 4-3 to the visitors.
James Kidd got his second and Walker completed his hat-trick for a 6-4 advantage going into the final quarter. Stuart McGregor Dallas and Andy Price saw off a lot of incoming to keep the scoreline tight before two goals from Pete Ross ensured Blues got the victory.
“Both teams were looking strong in the early stages and both defences played extremely well,” said McGregor Dallas. “Andy Price had a great game in goal and denied us repeatedly. It would have been a very different game had he not been on such good form.
I think we will all be looking forward to the Flags semi-final fixture at the end of this month.” Price added: “It was a tough game. Blues controlled the ball well and dominated much of the possession.
We created good chances when we carried the ball in attack and a decent defensive performance kept the scoreline reasonably close, but Blues were looking much for fluid with the ball than our first encounter.
We are looking forward the Flags Semi final though, expect it to be a very close game.” Cardiff travelled back from Spencer with a creditable 3-7 defeat and the prospect of a run of three home games through the end of February that should see them secure Prem status.
Middie Matt Davies put in a great shift with a lot of defensive duties as 11-man Cardiff provided an effective barrier to the potent Spencer front six. “We really made a game of it despite only travelling with 11,” said skipper Ceri Hill.
“The game was dominated by the two defences who were on great form. Spencer held the vast majority of the possession and were well worth their victory. “We’re very optimistic about the rest of the season.
We think we’ve done enough already to avoid relegation so the pressure is off, leaving us free to really take a run at the second half of the season and try and pick up as many points as possible.
We have a good run of home games coming up all of which are very much winnable.” Spencer co-captain Tom Leahy added: “We anticipated Cardiff would come with the fight and determination they showed earlier in the season at their place, and they did not disappoint.
“A very physical and well drilled side, it gave us a really good test to keep us sharp ahead of the next few weeks. S”pecial mention must go to their keeper, who must have made at least 10 saves when we were already chalking up a goal.
“Purley’s woes continued with a 24-1 defeat at Hampstead and they are now hoping they can muster that trademark late season backlash to haul them off the bottom.
They have four games in hand and, as ever, should never be written off. There are two stand-out games this weekend that will go a long to dictate if the Prem race remains open or narrows to a two-team tussle.
Hampstead beat Blues 17-13 in a free-flowing game at the Westway in November but Banstead, in what promise to be tough weather conditions, offers a different dynamic. Spencer will know that a top performance will be needed in Mitcham if they are to snuff out Hillcroft’s challenge.
East Grinstead 5 – 9 Blues
Hampstead 24 -1 Purley
Reading 6 – 9 Hillcroft
Spencer 7 – 3 Cardiff