It was a typically frenetic set of fixtures in the SEMLA Premiership this weekend with arguably the key 3 league challengers battling to carve out a stranglehold in the division as well as a mid-table clash between two teams fighting to climb away from their rivals with East Grinstead visiting Hitchin.
Last year’s league champions Spencer were at their Earlsfield home in South London where they faced premiership strugglers Bristol Bombers. Whilst their comparative league statures may give the impression the result would be a foregone conclusion, Bristol are renowned as producing combative performances and on their day can be a tough team to tackle, something Spencer were acutely aware of and keen to avoid at all costs. The hosts set about the fixture in typically dominating fashion and, with one eye on next week’s Clash of The Titans against fellow league hopefuls Hampstead, ensured they got their shooting boots on early to ensure a potential banana skin of a fixture was avoided. After some typically strong defensive play and opening up their attacking prowess with slick transition play, Spencer rallied to an eventual 11-4 victory to set them up in good stead for next weekend’s showcase feature against their London rivals.
Elsewhere in the league, 4th met 8th when Hitchin played host to East Grinstead who teeter just above the danger of the playoff and relegation positions toward the foot of the table. Hitchin have endured somewhat of a topsy-turvy season thus far which has included narrowly losing by 1 to Walcountian Blues, establishing dominant wins against the likes of Reading and Bristol and registering potentially the shock result of the season when they overturned a below-par Hampstead team by 9 goals. Unfortunately, these results have also been coupled with capitulating performances in fixtures against both Hillcroft and Spencer, and it was this form which was on show against East Grinstead. The visitors flew out of the starting blocks into a 4-1 quarter time lead which Hitchin were never able to recover from, despite a 2nd quarter rally to bring the half-time score to 3-5. After the break, the second half started in exactly the same manner as the game and Hitchin went into the final 20 minutes trailing 9-5. A single goal from each team in the final period left the visitors to go home with all 4 points to give them vital breathing space from the danger spots below them in the league.
With Spencer again registering a dominating win to keep pressure up on their rivals, all eyes were across the city in Tooting where high-flying Hillcroft were visited by “The Big Black Train” of Hampstead in what would prove to be a colossal bout of fast-paced and hard-battling lacrosse. With both teams on 1 loss and 6 wins each, Hillcroft sat 5 places above their visitors by virtue of having played (and drawn) an additional 2 games than their opponents, and there was no doubt that this was a game that neither team could afford to lose. With both teams still facing huge fixtures against Spencer and with the return match of this fixture scheduled for late April, it was clear to all that this fixture would go some way to deciding who the eventual league champions will be come May.
Hampstead, with all of their international talent, are no strangers to playing in big games and this experience was prevalent when they nudged ahead in an end-to-end opening period, leading their hosts 3-2 at 1st quarter time. However, Hillcroft are not the type of team to roll over and accept defeat and thanks to some heroic defensive performances at the back to keep the Hampstead momentum at bay, the hosts were able to link up well across the middle and provide their attack with the platform to bombard the Hampstead cage, chances they grasped gratefully to overturn the 1st quarter deficit and go in as 6-5 leaders at the half-way point. After taking stock of the importance of the fixture and the potential ramifications if they didn’t get the result they so desired, Hampstead rampaged in the 3rd quarter, scoring 6 for just a solitary reply to establish their supremacy and lead the game by 11-7 with just the final quarter remaining. With the wind well and truly out of the Hillcroft sails, Hampstead continued in their ascendancy in the final 20 and bagged themselves a further 3, conceding just 1 in return. Job done, Hampstead set off on their tube journey home with all 4 points, emerging as 14-8 victors and sending a message out to the league that they are well and truly in the race for league domination, something which makes next weekend’s Clash of The Titans all the more intriguing. See our “Clash of The Titans” special post for more on what will undoubtedly be one all the SEMLA fans will be wanting to witness!