Top table thriller leads to last minute reprieve for battling M5’s against Hampstead & Westminster

Report by Mat Mitchell

Southgate M5’s vs Hampstead and Westminster Thirsts

3-3 Draw

The first game of 2024 saw the Mighty 5s travel to Paddington Rec. to face league leaders Hampstead & Westminster Thirsts, who boasted an impressive 8 wins and 1 draw from their opening 9 matches.

The two teams had actually already met in unusual circumstances this season. With H&W’s usual pitches unavailable, the opposition captain had to sheepishly let the assembled Southgate team know he had spotted a problem with the pitch we were stood beside. No floodlights. Not ideal for a 3.30pm pushback in November. Rather than take the points, the 5’s agreed to rearrange, however we would play a 50 minute friendly until sunset. With nothing to lose, skipper Jon Huddlestone asked for 2 things, no injuries, and a fearless aggressive attack. Naturally, the friendly ended 0-0 and Jon limped off injured after taking a fearsome shot to a delicate area.

However, that friendly provided the blueprint for the rest of the season. If we play on the front foot we can match any team in this league. With that in mind, the start of this rearranged match couldn’t have started much worse. The younger, more energetic home side flew into the opening 5 minutes, suffocating the Southgate defence with movement, pressing, and a determination to win the ball back high. They were gifted an early opening as a terrible ball out from Mat landed straight on the strikers stick, and was duly dispatched.

Hampstead and Westminster 1 – 0 Southgate

Things went from bad to worse, as the continued pressure led to a Penalty Corner for the home side. The ball was stopped on the line by Rory, but unfortunately not with his stick. Penalty Stroke.

Hampstead and Westminster 2 – 0 Southgate

At this point it appeared Southgate were dead and buried. The league leaders were winning every 50/50, looked sharper in every aspect, and were creating overload after overload down the wings. Jon Dann was called into action, blocking a shot smartly, and H&W saw a decent reverse stick effort flash across the face of the goal and just wide of the far post. Southgate somehow survived this perilous opening 25 minutes without taking further damage. A rare foray into the opposition half finally produced a glimmer of hope and some respite for the defence, as the Southgate attack did well to win a Penalty Corner. The pre-match decision by Will to attempt a Zig-Zag routine paid dividends. Despite adding an unexpected extra Zig into the Zig-Zag, the Spice Boys pulled one back through Joe Sopher at the back post, as the deficit of 2 became 1.

Hampstead and Westminster 2 – 1 Southgate

As Southgate tried to cling on to what would have been a miraculous 1 goal deficit going into half time, the home side continued to dominate. Another Penalty Corner on the stroke of half time saw H&W throw everyone forward. The routine was good, with ball switched back across from the right to the left post, and deflected high into the net, to restore the host’s fully deserved 2 goal cushion.

HT – Hampstead and Westminster 3 – 1 Southgate

A deflated Southgate took stock, and headed into the 2nd half with more purpose following encouraging words from captain Jon and a trademark rousing speech from Robbo. The second half began in more encouraging fashion for Southgate. H&W had changed tactics, with their midfield and attack sitting slightly deeper out of possession, looking to block routes out of defence for Southgate, rather than pressing the ball high. With more time afforded in possession, Southgate started to find gaps, with the midfield of Will, Raj, Dan, Robbo and Duncan doing well to link up play and switch the ball out to full backs Joe and Yu.

Despite the encouraging signs, it was still H&W looking the more threatening. They looked certain to make it 4-1 midway through the second half. With keeper Jon Dann beat, the ball bounced off the base of the post, and a desperate slide for the ball from Mat left him sprawled prone across the goalline facing the backboard. The two H&W forwards hesitated for a split second, and with the rest of the goal gaping very kindly placed the shot within reach of the flailing defender’s stick on the line, as Southgate gratefully scrambled the ball away. The miss was punished shortly after, with a smart Rich Martins strike giving the 5’s a lifeline back into the game.

Hampstead and Westminster 3 – 2 Southgate

Now it was Southgate with their tails up, adrenaline pumping, and sniffing blood. With the home side rattled, the 5’s looked mighty once more, with Mitch, Sohan and Rich causing havoc, and winning more Penalty Corners off the home defence. As full time fast approached it appeared the decisive breakthrough had come, with Yu slamming the ball against the backboard, but only after the home umpire had blown for another Southgate Penalty Corner instead of playing the advantage. The umpire signalled 2 minutes remaining, and the resultant Penalty Corner was cleared, to roars of delight from the relieved home side. H&W attempted to run down the clock to claim the 3 points, switching the ball to the wings and taking advantage of the gaps as Southgate pressed high. A missed pass gave Southgate a sideline ball deep in their own half, with only a minute left on the clock. A beautifully crisp move ensued, with the ball pinged from Southgate stick to Southgate stick, switched to the far right wing, back into Rich, who picked out Mitch in the D. With the ball coming across from his right, Mitch took just one touch, clinically guiding the ball across the keeper and into the far left corner.

Hampstead and Westminster 3 – 3 Southgate

Delighted roars and celebrations from the team in red ensued, with the exception of flu-recovering Robbo, who had seemingly missed Southgate’s 2nd goal and stood wondering why a consolation goal was being met with such euphoric celebration. A brilliant, hard earned away point felt like a win in the circumstances. Beers, shots and martini’s flowed late into the night as the 5’s slowly made their way back to north London.

MoM went to Yu for an excellent defensive and attacking display from left back.