Following the Christmas break, the majority of English club teams returned back to training in the early new year in preparation for the stretch of fixtures which will form the final standings for the English leagues in both the North (NEMLA) and the South (SEMLA) as well as including the cup fixtures which will give us the teams who will feature in our Flags Final festivals in April and May.
Unfortunately, the perils of playing lacrosse in the winter were present again this weekend where a number of top flight matches had to be postponed due to inclement weather conditions and waterlogged pitches. Whilst this is frustrating for all of the teams fighting it out for honours and survival, it now means that the fans get to enjoy competitive matches every weekend from now until the end of the season, with some clubs having to play two games over the space of a weekend to ensure all of the fixtures will be honoured all of which will make the run-in more exciting from a neutral/fan perspective.
The key fixture played this weekend in the NEMLA Premiership saw the bottom two teams meet one another in a dogfight which may prove crucial in their battles for top-level survival. Sheffield Steelers hosted Wilmslow on their astro turf pitch and showed no signs of a festive hangover as they set out to establish an early dominance and foothold in the game by registering a number of early goals and holding firm at the back to keep ahead in the early encounters. This lead was maintained throughout a fighting performance from the home side who eventually emerged as 13-3 victors, registering only their second win of the season which takes them to 9th in the table, 2 points ahead of Wilmslow. Both teams will need more than 2 victories to remain in the top flight and both will undoubtedly be using this result as motivation to drive them on through the remaining fixtures.
Next weekend sees Waconians host unbeaten Stockport in what will be an undoubtedly difficult weekend for the hosts, 2nd-placed Cheadle face Sheffield at home in a game they need to win to keep the pressure on the top and 4th meets 5th when rivals Poynton and Heaton Mersey meet in what will be the choice game for the fans to attend. Bottom-placed Wilmslow face Rochdale at home in a game which could have huge repercussions in the battle for Premiership survival and the hosts will be hoping to enjoy a repeat of the previous result which saw them register a huge W. Can Wilmslow get a win and move off the bottom of the table? Will Poynton maintain their fine form of last year and keep Mersey at arm’s length? Will Stockport continue with their 100% record? Keep an eager eye on updates with us in next week’s NELMA report!
In the SEMLA Premiership there was again a number of games postponed thanks to the storms although East Grinstead were able to host Reading Wildcats in a battle which EG were hoping to win to move themselves away from the playoff positions toward the foot of the table.
Unfortunately for the hosts, a battling Wildcats team were in no mood to roll over and the game was a tense affair from the outset, with the first quarter score level at 1-1. East Grinstead did manage to nudge in front in the second quarter but with both defences putting on a formidable display, the half-time score was a mere 2-1 to the hosts. Reading hit back early in the second quarter and evened the scores up at 4-4 going into the final 20 minutes. This was a hard-fought contest throughout and both midfields and defences did all they could to hold the opponents out as much as possible. The teams traded goals to be 5-5 going into the last minute before Reading unleashed an attack which culminated in a lovely crease dive finish to win the game with just 20 seconds to go. A testament to the competitive nature of the competition, this was a dogged contest with both teams trading blows and giving it their all for the result. Whilst East Grinstead remain just one place off the foot of the table, they have games in hand on the teams around them and this performance will go some way to giving them the confidence that they are more than competitive enough to compete in this division.
The SEMLA spectacle of the week was found in London where league leaders Hillcroft played host to 3rd -placed Walcountian Blues. With the other teams around them not featuring this week, Hillcroft were looking to kick-off their 2016 with a win to further extend their lead at the top of the table and put pressure on heavyweights Spencer and Hampstead in the title race. However, the visitors from Surrey set out to prove that their performances will still have a huge say on who will emerge as league victors come May and ensured the game was a tight affair throughout again with defences dictating the play from the outset. With the scores level at 1-1 at first quarter time, the second quarter followed the same chess-like pattern of earlier and both teams traded blows with the visitors taking a 4-2 lead going into the second half. The hosts rallied in the third and both offences began to find their way through to take the game into the final quarter with the visitors leading 7-6. Hillcroft’s attack then continued their second half successes and with Blues only managing to respond twice, the final score was 9-9 with both teams having to share the points. Whilst Hillcroft will be disappointed to have dropped points at home, they will be happy to have been able to turn their in-game fortunes around with Blues again demonstrating their experience and resilience to make sure everyone in SEMLA knew they were still very much a major player in the league.
With Hampstead and Spencer returning to action next week at the top of the table and bottom-placed Purley hosting Hillcroft, next weekend is set for a number of interesting challenges and movement across the board can be expected in what is turning into a very hotly-contested title race and survival battle. Stay tuned to see how this pans out in next week’s supplement!