Spencer and Hampstead continued their winning ways to move up the table and prepare for their long-awaited showdown this Saturday.
Both teams are level on points and have only one loss from 8 games but the champions superior goal difference gives them the edge on the eve of battle and a season-defining period.
The big guns face off against each three times in the next six weeks and, with Spencer also travelling to leaders Hillcroft, the crunch time is here.
Spencer will start favourites tomorrow with home advantage but Hampstead ability to win close games has made them an even more dangerous foe than normal.
They also came through a tough game at Hillcroft last Saturday (see Match of the Day report) below while Spencer won 11-4 at Bristol.
Reagan Wesley was a stand-out as Hampstead repeated their early season Flags triumph at Hillcroft with a 14-8 league victory. His towering midfield performance and four goals combined with marksman Austin Romantic’s five goal haul helped the Men in Black overcome a dogged home side who were below par.
They stay top but have played two more games than Spencer and Hampstead.
Bristol gave Spencer a tough time and co-captain Tom Leahy said: “They came out of the blocks strong and made it a difficult game throughout. We owe a huge thanks to Pete Wilson, Guy Oldring and the Bristol team for ensuring the game got played against the odds considering the weather.
“We now look forward to the challenge of Hampstead and seeing the best that D1 has to offer.”
Co-captain Joe Darkins added: “Bristol were organised and fought throughout the game right up until the end. The pitch was very muddy and made the game a little scrappy but there was still great lacrosse from both teams.
“Full credit to Bristol and great to see their improvement and lovely new club house.”
Bristol stay in 9th place with Purley rooted to the bottom because of a run of three postponed games. They have not planned this year and their next scheduled game is away at Hampstead on February 6.
Match of the Day
Hillcroft 8 – 14 Hampstead
A compelling second half offensive display helped Hampstead fight off a gutsy Hillcroft to claim their seventh win of the season.
The game raged around the field and the home side put in a spirited comeback after a sleepy start to take a one goal half time lead. But they struggled to convert possessions and Hampstead turned on the after-burners in attack to race clear in the closing quarters.
Hillcroft were down players because of international trials and Brian Potter was lodged in D rather than his trademark goal-factory, crease-ghost position.
Paddy Atkinson opened the scoring for the visitors in the second minute by evading two challenges and firing home a crisp shot. The Hillcroft D was caught napping and needed Matt O’Leary to fend off a rush of shots including two in a man-up phase.
Hampstead extended their lead through Canisius College grad Austin Romantic’s triple fakery following an interception and fast break.
Tom Ridings got Hillcroft on the scoresheet and then Zak Jordan finished of a field-length goal initiated by another O’Leary save and swift distribution. But with 20 seconds to go in the Quarter, Romantic seized on a ground ball and netted for a 2-3 scoreline.
Hillcroft had a good share of possession but appeared ponderous at times which unhinged their customary fluid passing regimes.
They levelled again through Liam O’Mahoney as they signalled a fresh purpose in Quarter 2 and when Hampstead draw-man Max Rodman limped out with a hamstring injury there was feeling the balance had tilted slightly in the home team favour.
Matt Hillman converted for Hampstead but Hllcroft then hammered home their advantage with three goals. Brian Potter raided up field and lurked for an opportunity – different stick but same result as he scored close range.
Tom Paton and then Alex Twiss gave them a 6-4 lead and Hillcroft were back in the groove and Hampstead took a time-out to defuse the explosive streak.
It paid dividends as patient possession fashioned another chance for Hillman and the Quarter closed 6-5 for Hillcroft.
Both teams needed a big 3rd Quarter and it was the visitors who grabbed the game after Romantic and Hillcrofts’ Duncan Trenholme traded goals in the first four minutes. It was now Hampstead’s turn to go on a scoring spree and the powerhouse running of Reagan Wesley and Romantic tore holes through the White wall of Hillcroft’s D.
O’Leary was under fire and pulled off some game-saving stops but three goals in five minutes from Wesley, Hillman and a solo Romantic slalom to the cage were irresistible.
Two more from Wesley, a drive from X and crease dive and a blistering low shot on the run took the game away from Hillcroft and made it 7-11 going into the 4th Quarter.
Hillcroft were in the game and had possession but again their work was not as sharp as expected and players were left holding the ball too long as team-mates failed to get free. Hampstead’s tiring defence was able to track moves and adjust and Brian Vandenbossche was equal to the final shot.
Tireless skipper Eoin Dunne scored with a neat post move on a man-up to get one back but O’Leary was again the busier of the keepers and the D managed to keep Hampstead at bay for 10 minutes.
But, as Hillcroft chased the game, Wesley made the most of space and powered to goal for the 8-12 score.
Hillcroft kept battling and Dunne came close after a fine solo effort and Ridings hit the post but time was running out and the killer blow came after a Hillcroft time out with four minutes left when Alex Adler rolled round the post and scored high to low.
With 30 seconds left he fed Romantic with an intelligent pass and the attacker made it 14-8.
Hillcroft were disappointed by the nature of their defeat and, although they stay top, the Mitcham side has played two more games than Spencer and Hillcroft and is only four points clear.
Q Scores: 2-3 / 6-5 / 7-11 / 8-14
Hillcroft: Dunne, Jordan, O’Mahoney Patton, Potter, Ridings, Trenholme, Twiss
Hampstead: Romantic 5, Wesley 4, Hillman 3, Adler, Atkinson