By Danny Buckland
The final countdown has begun for a monumental Flags clash as Spencer and Hillcroft lock horns in what promises to be another SEMLA sizzler.
Earlsfield has been a Flags fortress for Spencer over the last six years with their last defeat in the knock-out tournament way back on 20 November 2010.
The venerable Flags have taken up near-permanent residence in their clubhouse since 2012 and one more Final win will give them a SEMLA record of seven Flags in a row.
Hillcroft are always tough opponents but this time there is something special in the air as the Tooting side have already won at Earlsfield with a 9-5 victory in Week 2.
Spencer, wounded by two early season defeats, were keeping a low profile in the run-up to tomorrow’s clash. They came back from Cambridge with a 13-3 league win last week and went into Flags lock-down.
For Hillcroft, the Round of 16 match-up is another chance to show their credentials as a team that can take silverware rather than live in its shadows.
The Croft has never won a Flags, although they were edged 9-8 in last year’s semi-final by Spencer, but believe they are in the best shape ever for a glory run.
They too enjoyed a road win – 7-18 at Hitchin – Matt Tanner hit seven goals with Jack Crawley bagging a hat-trick and Andy Hopkins putting in a stand-our defensive shift.
Captain, Tom Loake, was delighted with their scorching 12-0 first half performance but less impressed with the second-half.
“The game was effectively over after 40 minutes and we lost our focus in the second half but, overall, I was satisfied with our performance,” said Loake.
“Credit to Hitchin for sticking at it and putting together some nice goals.
“Our next game is Spencer in the opening round of Flags, which is probably their best chance at silverware this year so we are expecting a tough battle and look forward to another high quality game.
“They are a strong side and we know how dangerous they are in transition; so face offs, special teams and turnovers will be key”.
The winners will play Hitchin at home in the Quarter-Finals, while in the other first round tie, Cardiff travel to Reading for the right to host Blues next February.
The big winners in last week’s league programme were the Bristol Bombers who grabbed the West’s bragging rights with an 8-2 home win over Cardiff and moved into fourth spot in the league.
“Another good win for us, and we are playing well and getting stronger,” said Guy Oldring.
Bristol initially struggled to break down Cardiff’s zone defence in the first half but eventually found the key to forge an unassailable lead.
“Cardiff played well for the first half but we then changed our offensive structure and the goals started to come,” added Oldring.
“An excellent couple of goals from Tom Jackson – one being a fireball into the top of the net – got us motivated and we started to push harder and finished strong.
Matt Collis also deserves a mention for a superb MOTM performance in midfield.
“The defence had little to do as we dominated the possession and it was great to see the offense being able to change strategies to overcome Cardiff’s zone.”
Cardiff’s Silas Fuller commented: “It was a tough game from a Quins’ perspective.
“We started ok, but had to switch to a zone to combat Bristol’s drive and dish game”.
This held the score to 2-1 at half time with Bristol not scoring on the zone.
“However, our attack was lacking throughout the game. Poor decisions up and down the pitch and our basics let us down and meant we played defence for almost all of the third quarter. At the start of the fourth, they were up 5-1 and we had to chase the game. We got a fast break goal but it was little consolation.”
Hampstead continued their goal blitz and burst through the 100-goal mark with a 20-3 win at Welwyn that keeps them top with Hillcroft in 2nd and Spencer third.
Blues got some momentum going with a 12-4 win at Reading.
Week 6 Results
Bristol Bombers 8 – 2 Cardiff
Cambridge 3 – 13 Spencer
Hitchin 7 – 18 Hillcroft
Reading 4 – 12 Blues
Welwyn 3 – 20 Hampstead
Fixtures – R16 Flags
Reading v Cardiff
Spencer v Hillcroft