Spencer and Hampstead stoked up their title charge with impressive wins and ominous moves up the table.
The champions had to work hard to shake off a dogged performance from East Grinstead who went down 13-6 in Earlsfield but were in with a shout until the later stages of the final Quarter. (See match of the day report below)
Hampstead were in expansive mood and clocked up an 18-4 victory in a double-header with Cardiff.
Their clinical efficiency up top is sending tremors through the league and Cardiff skipper Ceri Hill commented: “I’m not sure there’s a team in the league that can beat them when they get their full squad out.”
He added: “Surprisingly, it was a very enjoyable game to play in. The score line doesn’t really reflect how possession was shared, with spells of very good lacrosse from both sides. What really hurt us though is how efficient Hampstead were on offence.”
The big guns are lurking in 6th and 7th place with Spencer edging it on goal difference with both holding games in hand on all teams above them.
Reading are proving the masters of the tight game, recording their second one goal win in succession and their fourth of the season. Bristol were the unlucky team this time and the win puts the Wildcats back on top as Hillcroft’s game at Purley was called off.
Blues continued their rehab with a morale-boosting 13-5 win over Hitchin whose topsy-turvy forms continues to confound observers.
The Matt Birkett – Rhod Stanford battle was one for the face-off connoisseurs and the teams were locked 2-2 in the 1st Quarter. The Banstead boys edged in front 6-4 at half time and Pete Ross, who grabbed four on the day, helped them storm onto a five goal unanswered run through Quarter 3.
Goals from Dave Howie, James Kidd and Ewan Willsmer gave Blues a 13-5 final score.
“Hitchin really fought hard and showed what a dangerous team they can be,” said Blues captain Stuart McGregor Dallas. “The score really does not reflect the kind of game that was played but we were pleased to possess the ball for long periods and not rush attacks.
“With this kind of form and nearly all our players back to 100% fitness the second half of the season will be very close as we hunt down the teams above us in the league.”
Hitichin skipper Rhod Stanford added: “It was wet and heavy and created slow, messy play when settled in 6 on 6 for both sides.
“We had the numbers advantage on the bench, however they had 11 quality experienced players. We had some younger, energetic less experienced guys in the squad, and with a heavy wet pitch their youth and energy was lost.
“Blues were by far the better team on the day and if not for great work by Will Smith in net, their tally could have been higher.”
The big match up this weekend is high-scoring Hampstead’s visit to Hillcroft. The Men in Black won their early season Flags encounter 11-10 and another close, gripping game is expected.
Blues 13 – 5 Hitchin
Hampstead 18 – 4 Cardiff
Reading 7 – 6 Bristol
Spencer 13 – 6 East Grinstead
Bristol Bombers v Spencer
Harlequins v Reading
Hillcroft v Hampstead
Hitchin v East Grinstead
Blues v Purley
Match of the Day – Spencer 13 – 6 East Grinstead
Spencer weathered a storm from East Grinstead who took a deserved 4-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.
They were dynamic, direct and unsettled the champions who found it difficult to locate their trademark cohesion as the game pulsated from end to end.
Freddie Evans gave them the lead in the first minute but there was no chance to bask in the glory when EG hit straight back as Ireland international Cillian Murphy dodged from X and scored from a tight angle.
EG were matching Spencer in the possession stakes but a fast break saw Cam Leslie eat up the ground through transition to connect with Tom Stewart who took the pass on the run and fired home.
Again, the lead was short lived as Matt Baldwin levelled it after finding space in a Defence that prides itself on shutting out light for attacker. They took the lead when Murphy picked up a loose ball and fired in from close range in a flash.
Spencer called a time-out on 12 minutes and emerged with more composure forcing Andy Price to save well from a set play.
They were back on terms when Leslie sneaked from X and found a corner. EG were back on top within a minute when middie John Tracey scored with an opportunistic shot.
They were worth the 4-3 lead at the quarter and, although Spencer looked dangerous on the burst, the home team was underpar. Their quarter huddle was committed and they emerged with a more fluid team set up.
Co-captain Tom Leahy led the way with a raid upfield and dump to Rob Holmes who did the honours. Joe Darkins, Spencer’s other co-captain, was instrumental in the next move, winning a ground ball and releasing Will Walker who found Ed Shee who rifled one past Price.
Spencer were now wheeling the ball round the cage with pace and precision as they flicked through the pages of a potent playbook.
Nick Acutt dominated the face supported by a typically marauding performance from Tom Roche.
EG could make nothing of a man-up and a Leahy clear got the ball to Evans who found Holmes who calmly claimed his 2nd and Spencer were 6-4.
The visitors made better use of their next man-up and White was unfortunate to see his shot hit the bar. They remained goal-less for the quarter but Evans got his second, forcing a roll around the post to gain separation before firing in for 7-4 at half time.
Spencer had found an enviable groove and with every play they looked more dangerous while EG were struggling to maintain their form in the face of a compelling performance.
Will Walker increased the lead to four with a top-shelf stinger after the re-start but White finished smartly after Price saved and got Drew Whichman motoring for a lightning clear and excellent pass to White who fashioned enough space to turn and shoot.
The play was raging from end to end with Rick Bone and Price busy but Leslie’s second and a sweet move that saw Rob Holmes feed Tom Stewart gave Spencer a decisive 10-5 lead going into the 4th Quarter.
Whichman struck within a minute of the quarter and the visitors still looked capable of clawing back the deficit. They continued to hustle and get good looks but Spencer’s cleaner and longer possessions were taking a toll.
The killer moment came 10 minutes in from D-man Jonny Clarke on a rare excursion north where he latched onto a loose ball and blitzed home a shot. Spencer’s slick movement and distribution was in full flow and another picture perfect move allowed Walker to find Dom Sandy for a cool finish.
Acutt crowned a glorious performance at face-off by winning clean ball to race clear and pick a defence opening pass for Walker to make it 13-6 with less than three minutes to go.
“It was a tough game but we responded well from last week and came out in the first quarter firing,” said Price. “The attack were finding space nicely and defensively it was tough, with Spencer moving the ball a lot better than teams we have played all season.
“We started struggling towards the end of the game as legs tired but overall I’m really happy with the performance.”
Joe Darkins, Spencer co-captain, added: “They played brilliantly in the first quarter and it was very tough. We knew they would give us a hard game and we had planned for it. They were on top form and we had to dig deep. We had a strong word at the quarter about what we expected and what we could do.
We started to put our moves together and played how we know we can but they made it difficult for us throughout the entire game.”
Q Scores: 3-4 / 7-4 / 10-5 / 13-6
Spencer: Tom Stewart 3, Freddie Evans 2, Rob Holmes 2, Cam Leslie 2, Will Walker 2, Jonny Clark, Dom Sandy.
East Grinstead: Cillian Murphy 2, Matt Baldwin, John Tracey, Drew Whichman, Chris White