Manchester no match for super Saints

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ST ANDREWS MEN’S 1STS 9 –     5       MANCHESTER UNIVERSITY 1STS

By Richard Browne

The Saints Men’s Lacrosse 1sts got their new season, promoted to the BUCS Northern Premier Division, off to the best possible start, winning comfortably against last season’s BUCS Men’s Northern Conference winners. Manchester won that league in three consecutive years, but the Saints brought them crashing down to earth with a merited victory.

That’s not how it looked at the start, however, as Manchester raced into a 2-0 lead, as the hosts struggled to impose themselves on the game. They continued to attack, but the Saints defended doggedly, with strong blocks and interceptions.

Then they found their feet on the attack. Some good build-up play led to Stephen Seymour finding space behind the goal; taking advantage of some slack defending, he turned and fired past the goalkeeper from close range. The first quarter ended with the home side, now only one goal down, gaining in confidence and looking more likely to score.

The Saints started the second quarter aggressively; soon on the attack, they began peppering the Manchester goal with shots. The visitors gave a reminder of their quality as they hit the frame of Saints’ goal twice in quick succession, but soon the teams were level. Some composed possession preceded Seymour picking up the ball, turning brilliantly and thumping the shot in for 2-2.

The hosts were by far the better team by this stage and not long after equalising, they were ahead. After some patient team play, Danny Gabelman found space to add a third goal and complete a marvellous comeback.

Manchester were starting to implode and, with a man in the penalty box for holding, they conceded a fourth goal to Saints captain Eugene Ballantine. The away team then went on the offensive, saw a shot hit the side-netting, but were immediately hit on the counter-attack. Intelligent running and quick passing set up Ballantine to score again with a long-range effort.

The three-goal margin was soon extended – Mike Acierno (who had already had a fine game) collected possession, turned to leave his marker on the floor and fired home. At 6-2 the Saints were well on top, pressurising Manchester into mistakes with some hard hits and cutting them to shreds with incisive passing and movement. They looked likely to go even further ahead, and very nearly did so, but it was the visitors who struck last in the period, one of their forwards getting free to score from a tight angle.

Manchester began the third quarter with intent, but soon it was the home side on the attack, forcing the keeper into the block low to his left. They kept the move going and soon Seymour had his third of the match, knocking a ten-yard rasper into the top corner of the net.

The Saints were camped in Manchester’s defensive area, but the quarter became increasingly scrappy, with both teams losing players to the penalty box. The away side simply couldn’t get enough possession to try and close the gap, thanks to some impressive interceptions and effective checking.

The visitors did start the final period well and, a man up, scored to reduce the deficit to three once again. The Saints’ physical approach, though, was beginning to get to the Manchester players. Their attacks were let down by silly errors, while fiery tempers equalled several trips to the penalty box. The Saints hit back at their undisciplined opponents in style, with Acierno turning between two defenders behind the goal and setting up Gabelman to power home for 8-4.

Acierno then scored from ten yards after twisting free and teasing the opposition defence, before Manchester hit back once more, the scorer picking up a long pass and slamming home. But the hosts were comfortable in seeing the game out, with goalkeeper Timo Higgins being well shielded by defencemen Colin Baker, Henry Eshelman, Graham Higgins and Angus West, and pulling off the necessary saves when called upon.

The final whistle was the signal for the Saints’ squad to stream onto the pitch to celebrate a deserved win. Tougher trials lie ahead, especially next week against defending champions Durham, but if the team can repeat this dominant performance, a successful season is not out of reach.

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