With 1st-placed Hillcroft’s game being postponed this weekend, this was the perfect opportunity for the chasing pack of Spencer, Blues and Hampstead to reduce the deficit and make up ground on the league leaders, all of whom did so in style!
In the Battle of the Capitals, London-based Hampstead dispatched their Welsh counter-parts, Cardiff Harlequins, 18-4 in a dominant display to remind all around them of their potency and ensure they are still very much in the title race despite their current points trail, a result which extends their win total to 4 for 1 loss. Across the city, Premiership stalwarts Spencer carried on where they left off last week by hammering their visitors East Grinstead by 13-6. Despite the away team leading the game 4-3 at first quarter time, Spencer rallied in the 2nd to lead 7-4 at half-time and won the second half 6-2 to continue their win-streak which they hope will see them return to the top of the table when they finally catch up on the games in hand on Hillcroft.
Over in Berkshire, Reading Wildcats were involved in a trademark dog fight, beating Bristol Bombers 7-6 and again showcasing their battling spirit to prove they are a very difficult team to beat who never seem to give up with the lead changing hands several times throughout the game. In the other match-up in the Southern Premiership, Walcountian Blues saw-off 4th-placed Hitchin 13-5 in another commanding performance to move them to the top of the table on 33 points (but having played at least 1 more game than their closest rivals).
Next weekend sees a full fixture list with a number of key games at the top and bottom of the table. Spencer will be looking to continue their fine form when they travel to 8th-placed Bristol Bombers, Cardiff Harlequins host Reading Wildcats in a fixture which always promises a hard-fought battle, 4th-placed Hitchin host East Grinstead who will be looking to bounce back from this weekend’s disappointing loss and top play bottom when high-flying Blues play host to Purley who are yet to record a victory, but are renowned for causing upsets on the big stage.
All eyes in the South will be on the heavyweight battle between Hillcroft & Hampstead, both of whom are vying for major honours this season and who have already enjoyed a 1-goal thriller when they met in the first round of the Senior Flags cup competition. In that previous meeting, it was Hampstead who emerged as 11-10 victors and they will be sure to do all they can to repeat this result and maintain their assault on the league title. Hampstead boast a veritable beauty parade of international talent with swathes of ex-DI & DIII US college veterans and European athletes and share a league-leading offensive average of 13.3 goals scored per game. Hillcroft will also be lining up with a number of European internationals in their squads with athletes representing Ireland, Wales and Germany in the upcoming European Championship as well as players originating from DIII US programmes.
Hampstead are well-known for their power across the back and in the middle of the pitch and they will be looking to use this to their advantage when they face a fast and free-flowing Hillcroft who have conceded only an average of 5.8 goals per game so far this season, form which has seen them rocket to the top of the table. Since dropping points against a battling Reading Wildcats side on the first game of the season, Hillcroft have maintained an unbeaten run in the league beating rivals Blues and Spencer once each but registering a surprise (and potentially very costly) draw away at Cardiff and drawing against Blues in their first game of 2016. If Hillcroft wish to be true title-contenders, they will need to build upon their solid defensive foundations but ensure they are posing a constant threat against Hampstead. If they fail to do so, they will need the likes of Spencer and Blues (as well as Hampstead) to slip up several times over the course of the season to be in with a shout of silverware – a tall order considering the talent available to them all.
Hampstead will be looking to unleash their attacking prowess from the outset and will need to get an early stranglehold on the game to ensure Hillcroft are unable to launch another comeback, something which has saved them several times in big games this season already. Breaking through the Hillcroft defence will be no easy task, but the potency of Hampstead’s transition and offensive play is significant and they can tear the most organised defences apart on their day.
Whilst the league is still wide open and there are a number of teams who could be crowned champions come April, realistically this is a fixture which neither side can afford to lose. With Spencer and Blues both having fixtures they will expect to win this weekend, this could go a long way to deciding the final standings in the SEMLA Premiership and will most certainly be one to watch for all the fans in the South.
Will Hampstead’s international stars shine brightly enough to see off the Hillcroft challenge or will the hosts exact revenge for their early flags exit?
Check back next week to see how this contest and all the other SEMLA excitement unfolds!!