Hillcroft 10 - 11 Hampstead
Hampstead edged Hillcroft in a Flags thriller with the winner coming in a dramatic final three minutes.
Will Pickett delivered the killer blow with less than 60 seconds to go in a pulsating clash in south London.
Both teams delivered some scintillating passages of play with great team and individual goals along with a fair amount of early season rust.
Brian Potter grabbed a first quarter hat-trick and finished with four goals while former Albany marksman Will Stenberg hit three in an impressive performance.
The home team were coming off a one goal defeat to Reading but their match awareness saw them settle the better of the two teams after Stenberg opened his account from a neat cross-crease pass from Matt Hillman on three minutes.
Hillcroft then dominated possession, looking the more slick and connected. They used their first man up opportunity well with a crisp passing cycle releasing Jon Arthur who finished with a power shot to level the scores.
Neither team could find the finishing touch for the next ten minutes but great work from Hillcroft captain Eoin Dunne, a handful all afternoon for the Hampstead D, saw him wriggle clear and find Brian Potter on the crease for an easy strike. They were 3-1 up moments later after Alex Twiss hoovered up a ground ball and sent Zak Jordan motoring north to connect with Potter who was clinical close-in.
Hillcroft underlined their electrifying transition after Hillman hit the post and Zak Jordan collected the rebound and covered 60 yards untouched and dished to Potter as the slides closed in; the finish a formality for 4-1.
Another fast break with Jordan taking it all himself this time and finishing strongly to make in 5-1 as the game turned in a four goal, five-minute burst for the Croft.
Hampstead looked laden with skill but lack of practice meant disconnects in all key areas. They badly needed the quarter to end to regroup.
The Men in Black struck back within a minute of the restart as Stenberg rounded from X and fired in before the slide materialised and then made in 5-3 when Jonny Moore scored, forcing a Hillcroft time-out.
Hampstead kept the pressure on and Matt O’Leary saved well before Moore held the ball intelligently to work an opportunity with a cross field pass to Stenberg on the charge who closed in on goal and finished strongly for 5-4.
Hillcroft were reeling and Moore then took advantage of a dislocated defence for a superb solo goal and the scores were level. But they struck back through Potter on a man up play and hit half time with a slender 6-5 lead.
The game re-started at breakneck pace with plenty of errors and Hillcroft went two men down. They had negotiated all but 10 seconds of the penalty when they were forced out and Australia international Picket fired a lighting pass to Wheaton College graduate Hillman who scored from close range to level it again.
Hampstead featured a collection of US college emblazoned helmets but it was Patrick Atkinson, from Nottingham Trent University, who got the go-ahead goal with a solo effort to cap a superb debut performance.
Hillcroft are tenacious though and it was elegant Jordan again who levelled it, showing his athleticism to outsprint trailing middies and burst through the first line of defence to power a fierce shot past Brian Vandenbossche, who like his opposite number O’Leary, made a string of first class saves.
Hillcroft got back in front when the hard-working Alex Twiss grabbed a ground ball and circled the cage to move the D-unit and two quick passes found Tom Ridings who fired in a top shelf laser from 10 yards. The home team were ascendant and enjoying possession but a piece of brilliance from Mark Dubrowsky, taking a clearing pass up three-quarters of the length of the pitch into the danger zone before picking his spot well.
The pace intensified and the play became more broken but Duncan Trenholme put the home team ahead again with a clean strike on a man-up play. But they still couldn’t get the control needed to keep possession and Hillman found Pickett for another equalizer. 9-9 with six minutes to rip.
Dunne threatened and eluded his marker to run into a wall of Black but Trenholme was the fastest to react with a clean pick up of the spilled ball and finished close in with four minutes left.
Once again, composure eluded Hillcroft and when Jordan picked up a two-minute penalty, Hampstead snatched the moment with Stenberg converting a neat passing play and the scores were at 10-10.
The home team desperately needed to weather the storm until their midfield talisman returned but Hampstead held possession and patiently worked an opening which Pickett finished off as the clock clicked below the minute.
Hillcroft hustled to the end but couldn’t fashion a final chance to take into extra time and Hampstead advance to the next round and a trip to Cardiff Harlequins.
Hampstead looked ragged and disconnected to start but slowly gathered understanding and, if they can keep a consistent line up, will be a threat this season. Hillcroft will be furious that they didn’t make possession count but the lesson will serve them well as they look poised to challenge Spencer’s recent dominance.
Quarter scores: 5-1 / 6-5 / 7-7 / 10-11
Hillcroft: Brian Potter 4, Zak Jordan 2, Duncan Trenholme 2, Jon Arthurs, Tom Ridings.
Hampstead: Will Stenberg 4, Matt Hillman 2, Will Pickett 2, Jonny Moore, Pat Atkinson, Mark Dubrowsky