Bristol Bombers have hit the league’s finishing straight with a crucial win that hoists them off last spot and sets up a frantic four team race to beat the drop.
Matt Collis blasted four goals as the West Country team edged past East Grinstead 9-8 to set up a season-defining game against fellow strugglers Purley this Saturday.
At the top, there were no signs of a Christmas hangover for leaders Spencer who kept their 100% record with a win over Hampstead.
They were made to sweat it out as the Men in Black provided stubborn resistance and only went down 10-5 to the SEMLA pacesetters.
The giants traded blows and went into half time at 4-4 with Spencer only managing to edge 6-5 in front at the end of Q3. But a final quarter blitz saw the Earlsfield club score four unanswered goals.
“Hampstead gave us a tough game and I am sure they enjoyed the battle as much as we did. We were also pleased to have finished the game strongly with a final 4-0 quarter and hope to take that level of performance in to our next game against Hitchin,” said co-captain Tom Leahy.
The two square off again in a Flags semi on February 28 at the Westway, which will be a showcase for SEMLA talent.
“Obviously both ourselves and Hampstead now have the Flags semi on our minds and I hope that game is equally as fun and ultimately successful for us. They have the capability of bolstering their team sheet so we are taking nothing for granted.”
Blues found themselves reeling and 4-1 down as they emerged sleepy eyed from the Christmas break to encounter a feisty Reading outfit. The Banstead boys got their act together and took control with a stellar 2nd Q 7-0 showing and the action flowed end-to-end in an open and entertaining game.
“They caught us napping and we needed a response after a shock start,” said captain Dave Cluney. “What followed in the 2nd quarter was a fantastic display from every single player as we bounced back to win the quarter 7-0.
“I was really proud of the way the guys took a breath and focused on fixing what had gone wrong in the 1st quarter.
“Reading never really recovered and although we traded goals back and forth for the rest of the game, the hill was just too steep to climb. Ultimately, the performance that we gave in the 2nd quarter is the kind of form that took us to the championship last season, and we need to focus on replicating that for the rest of the season.”
Hillcroft enjoyed a comprehensive 15-1 victory over strugglers Purley and were in potent form from the first whistle, jumping out to a 6-0 lead, which they increased, to a commanding 9-0 lead by half time.
Former Blues attacker Jon Arthur sparkled on his debut grabbing eight goals as he linked up with the Croft’s imaginative offensive sets in a Man of the Match display.
“We showed little post Christmas rustiness,” said vice-captain Harry Collins. “Coach Brian Potter has been working us hard in training and it has really begun to pay dividends, with us creating lots of scoring opportunities.
“Our defence were solid, as they have been all season, and proved we’re a threat in every position, with long-poles John Goodwin and James Prescott each getting on the scoresheet.
“Purley seemed to lack the organisation and drive they’d shown in our previous match-up where their man-up squad had been clinical and they’d played a zone defence. They struggled to get the ball into attack, and in defence were often man-down through needless penalties.
“We’re happy with the result, and it’s nice to see our hard work paying off, but we know there’s still areas for us to improve if we want to be challenging for the title.”
Bristol Bombers took full advantage of Purley’s woe as they recorded their second league win of the season with a 9-8 victory over East Grinstead. Strenghtened by the return of Pete Wilson to lead the attack and new recruit Drew Houlbrooke, they worked a three-goal lead by half team.
But the Sussex team, making the journey with no bench, played it canny and showed effective game management to stay in the running.
“They played a really intelligent game, limiting our ability to switch on defensive players by keeping transitions away from the gate, taking full advantage of the wide Bombers pitch to hold the ball up in space, and using a zonal ride to slow down our clears and store energy,” said Bombers’ defender Silas Voelcker-Benson.
East Grinstead ground out the possession and gradually took control of Q3 before Wilson cleverly found Matt Collis on a man-up to give the home team a one goal advantage going into a nervy, final quarter.
“After a few sloppy turnovers and ground balls EG sneaked in a goal to level things at 8-8 with 6 minutes to go,” added Voelcker-Benson. “They then picked up a loose ball at the face and were able to settle into attack. After a couple of minutes of nervy defending, we managed to turn them over and break up-field and call a time out. Matt Collis was then once again able to finish a perfectly worked team move involving all 6 attacking players to take us into a 9-8 lead with 3 minutes to go. We managed to keep things interesting by handing them the ball back and taking a flag with a few seconds to go, but managed to hold on for what may turn out to be a vital win.”
Collis was Man of the Match for his four goals and a strong showing at Face-Off and they will need him in prime form again this week for SEMLA’s match of the day at Purley with the winner being able to breath a bit easier and the vanquished nervously eyeing the trap door.
Hitchin got the better of the Herts derby with a 13-5 win over Welwyn with Dave Leach grabbing four goals with hat-tricks from captain Rhod Stanford and Mike Halliwell.
“They had some experience back to give them some extra bite but I think we dominated all areas of the field,” said Stanford. “Their keeper made some outstanding saves and they took the final quarter 2-0 after a couple of injuries reduced us to ten men.”
Blues 14 – 9 Reading
Bristol 9 – 8 East Grinstead
Hillcroft 15 – 1 Purley
Spencer 10 – 5 Hampstead
Welwyn 5 – 13 Hitchin
East Grinstead v Blues
Hampsted v Reading
Purley v Bristol
Spencer v Hitchin
Welwyn v Hillcroft