Hampstead pulled off the upset of the season as they inflicted Spencer’s first Flags defeat in four years in a thrilling semi-final.
The Men in Black rose to the occasion to produce their best lacrosse of the season and record an 8-6 win against the holders.
The Earlsfield club failed to ignite in the first half and took advantage to scorch out to a 5-0 lead and then resist a Spencer surge in the second half. (Match Report Below)
“It was great to get a jump on Spencer in the first half, but we expected them to fight back, and they proved their potency in the third quarter. Both teams played a strong 4th, but we were able to hold the win,” said Hampstead’s Alex Adler.
“I am sure Spencer is disappointed for the loss but everyone knows they were the team to beat this season and they have had such strong seasons recently. Our utmost respect is given to them.
They will play Blues in the Final who had to claw their way past Reading Wildcats 7-6 in a tense, see-saw game. Blues went 3-0 up but Reading fought back to 6-4 into the final quarter before Blues squeezed back into contention and Ryan Walker notched the winner with less than two minutes to go.
Strong defences and the keeping of Jordan Boreman in red and Stuart McGregor Dallas, who was forced to make three saves in the first minute, for the Blues caught the eye.
“It was a fantastic game and tough to lose. It was definitely a day for strong defensive performances with both teams doing an incredible job smothering high scoring offences and both goalies playing incredibly well,” said Reading skipper Paul Milner.
“We missed a couple of gilt edged chances and successive penalties meant that they were able to put a lot of pressure on us with the winner coming with 1 minute 40 left on the clock. An exciting end saw us both crazily trade possessions, a one on one save by our goalie and a bounce shot on the whistle that just flew over the crossbar and would have tied the game.
“Best of luck to Blues in the final. We’re looking forward to hosting it at the Ibis and seeing a good game.”
Blues again had a mix of flair and ill discipline on display and despite going 3-0 up the teams were tied 4-4 at half time.
“The second half was Reading’s chance to shine and two quick goals at the start of the final quarter left us reeling, setting up a tense finish,” said Blues captain Dave Cluney. “But we were able to pick away at the Reading defence, clawing back the deficit and setting up Ryan Walker to score the winner. A final show of maturity and team work meant that Blues held their cool and sealed a place in the Final.”
Blues last played Hampstead in the Final in 2010 recording a 14-8 victory and retained the Flags the following season. Hampstead last won the honour in 2008 when they beat Purley 13-8 to claim a league and Flags double, that saw the end of a decade of glory for both teams.
The other finals will see Hillcroft A take on Cardiff in the Intermediate and Oxford University line up against Warwick University in the Minor Final which will all be held at Reading’s Ibis Sports Ground on Saturday, April 11th.
MATCH OF THE DAY
Hampstead 8 – 6 Spencer
Hampstead rekindled their glory days with a thrilling Flags Semi win over league leaders Spencer at the Westway.
The Men in Black lit up a gloomy day with a sizzling 1st half blitz that gave them the edge and cushion to resist a gutsy fightback from Spencer who were devastated to lose their 100% win record.
Under brooding skies, Hampstead settled into the game quickly and enjoyed a spell of calming possession for the first four minutes. Both teams were highly committed with strong mobile defences cloaking the attacks.
Mike Vigilante broke the deadlock on 8 minutes as he corkscrewed through the heart of the Spencer D to shoot as he was taken to the ground.
Spencer were jittery and committed turnovers that helped Hampstead edge the possession game and prevented them slotting into the trademark slick passing rhythm that has shredded the Premier League this season.
Both keepers made good doorstep saves and neither team could convert man-up opportunities as the quarter closed with the home team holding a slender lead. They doubled that in the first minute of Q2 when former Spencer stalwart Alan Keeley somehow managed to squeeze an angled shot past Rick Bone.
The Spencer keeper needed to be alert to save well from Vigilante but Hampstead made it 3-0 when Mark Dobrosky played cat and mouse looking for a feed from behind goal before launching a lightning break to round the pipe and pick his spot.
Hampstead had all the confidence while the visitors were struggling to locate their Spencer lacrosse groove and Keeley made it 4-0 after ghosting onto the crease on a Man-Up to finish with style and composure.
Hampstead were in dreamland when Nathan Hoole-Jackson outsprinted the cover and jinked from behind goal to gain an angle to make it 5-0.
This was unchartered territory for Spencer who have spent 75% of the season over the horizon by half time. They needed to come out firing to have any chance. And they did.
Tom Roche and Tom Leahy started to be a power-house double-pole face off threat as the champions-elect dug deep.
Roche hit Leahy from opening draw and he charged into the danger zone before feeding Joe Darkins who produced a sweet finish for Spencer’s first strike.
But they had further setbacks when Alex Adler outmuscled the defence to round the corner to score and within two minutes get his second after captain Johnny Moore intercepted a clear and connected with the attacker who thundered onto to goal with the time and space to select his corner.
Most teams would have buckled but Spencer’s dominant season has not been built solely on skill. The atmosphere crackled with their determination and Will Walker got the Earlsfield engine into a higher gear with a crisp shot after powering into space.
The cohesion and confidence so fragile in the first half started to flow and a pin-ball session of passing dislocated the Hampstead defence and Darkins fed Rob Holmes for the easy finish.
The Roche-Leahy double act kept the momentum rolling and the ball was zinging around the cage as Spencer sensed their superpowers returning and a defence tiring.
Hope was intensified when Ed Shee dodged into an alley and scored with a low shot to make it 7-4. Minutes later, the defence was again titled off its axis by intelligent passing and movement which Eddie Vita finished off with style to make it 7-5 and give the game a distinct purple tinge at the end of Q3.
But Hampstead gave themselves some daylight when Dobrosky proved elusive close in and manufactured enough space get off a sharp shot. Spencer picked up the pace and played an aggressive man-on-man to force a string of turnovers and besiege the Hampstead goal. Darkins finished one wheeling move with a pass to Ed Shee who dropped his shoulder and let rip a bullet to make it 8-6 with 8 minutes to go.
Both teams hurled everything at the final few minutes with Hampstead’s motorman Colin Shaw covering every blade of astro turf as the Men in Black summoned up every ounce of fight to resist a now rampant Spencer.
The teams swapped man-up technical’s in the last four minutes but Spencer could not find the final goals for the astonishing comeback and Hampstead were canny enough to get on their bikes and run down the clock.
Q Scores: 1-0 / 5-0 / 7-5 / 8-6
Reading and Blues Pictures taken by Antony Thornton