Newcastle missed out on the top spot of Northern 1A after a close defeat in a top-of-the-table clash against Sheffield.
On the back of very impressive derby wins against Northumbria and Durham, Newcastle had momentum going into the match against the side that they beat 7-1 at a similar stage last year.
However, Sheffield also had reasons to be confident going into the October clash. In the first two games of the season, the Yorkshire side had racked up a staggering 29 goals, whilst only conceding 1. Having nilled Hallam in the curtain raiser and then smashed Durham 2s, Sheffield looked like the form side.
It was a sudden change in form last year that set Sheffield up to be title contenders this year. Though their third place in the 2016/17 season may not have turned many heads, their 10-7 win in the BUCS Trophy final, having beaten Newcastle 9-1 along the way, showed how much the team had progressed.
As Sheffield rocked up to Longbenton, they were one of three unbeaten teams in the league, along with MMU and today’s opponents, Newcastle. Therefore, there was no doubt which fixture the eyes of the university lacrosse world would be looking at.
They became increasingly impatient, turning to run-and-gun lacrosse
Following the Men’s 2s 17-0 drubbing at the hands of York 1s, Newcastle aimed to change the mood at Longbenton, and in front of a capacity crowd including both the AU Officer Clara Pettitt and Activities Officer Rebecca Bainbridge, they did not want to disappoint.
That pressure perhaps turned to nerves in the first quarter of the game, as Sheffield looked the better side in a cagey affair. Sheffield’s talisman Ben Page Laypipe was the man who made the difference, as the creative No.7 scored two scrappy but important goals to give the Yorkshire side the advantage.
Aside from Jack Clohessey’s penetrating runs from deep, there was little intent from the Newcastle side, who benefitted from the breather after a nervous first quarter. However, after the break it seemed that Sheffield had hyped themselves up even more, as a big bosh sent war-painted Conor Doyle flying and put him out of large parts of the game.
Despite the physicality, Newcastle started to play some better lacrosse, as Luke “Rambo” Ramsbottom’s ten-yard sprint opened up the Sheffield defence for the first time in the game, only for Kristien Warren in between the posts to make a good save.
However, it was yet again Page Laypipe’s quality that put further distance between Sheffield and Newcastle. The mid shook off challenges from Newcastle’s Matthew Rees and Miles Moran before spinning and converting past the helpless Clohessey.
Going 3-0 down didn’t do Newcastle favours, as they became increasingly impatient, turning to run-and-gun lacrosse. If anything, Newcastle seemed even more under the kosh, as Sheffield’s Nathan Walker would’ve scored if not for a stick check by Rees that was deemed a slash by Higgs, the English Association referee.
Along with Matthew Tatton, Sheffield’s Ben Page Laypipe is in the England academy set up, and it was easy to see why as he walzed through the Newcastle defence for his fourth goal of the game. It looked like Newcastle had lost their heads so early in the game. Rather than score himself, Sheffield’s No.7 set up the next one, as he laid one on a plate for the big David King.
At the face-off, it was Tim Deehan that stepped up for Newcastle, crucially beating Ned Swift in a battle of strength and speed. Newcastle immediately went on the attack, with Ramsbottom finding Jake McNair, who set up Doyle, but he could only fire wide.
7 goals for Sheffield's Ben Page Laypipe
On their next attack, Newcastle finally managed to get on the scoresheet. The move started with Deehan, who played a one-two with Patrick Kearney before offloading the ball to McNair. The ball found its way to Ramsbottom via American Gil Richards, who coolly netted with a good cut to goal and reverse shot.
With the wind suddenly in their sails, Newcastle pressed on, with shots from Ian Lummis and Ramsbottom almost reducing the deficit. However, on the counter Newcastle conceded again. Despite Richards’ best efforts, Page Laypipe scored against after cleverly pocketing the ball from a wayward Walker pass.
Upon the start of the third quarter, Sheffield again came out playing physical, taking the game back to its Native American roots. Newcastle’s Matthew Holland was boshed into, before Ramsbottom scored but was hampered by a blow to the abs.
Carrying the momentum in the game, Newcastle continued to attack the rattled Sheffield back line. Stemming from a quality stick check by Holland on Philip Svensson, Ramsbottom found Rees in each space to score a decent goal, as he resembled King Kong is the following massive celebration with “Rambo”.
Richards, playing for Newcastle through Lacrosse The Pond, continued his excellent defensive work down the left-hand side, again thwarting Page Laypipe and putting Basty Dodd under enough pressure to ensure the attacker wasn’t able to poke home in the resultant scramble.
After a ten-pass move for Newcastle led to a Doyle bouncing effort from outside the Sheffield D, another crucial Rees stick check at the other end ensure that a 19-pass build-up wasn’t able to reach Page Laypipe on the far side.
Newcastle were uncharacteristically unfazed, and kept their composure
After turning over from Josh Brown, Sheffield’s Dodd instigated his team’s sixth goal of the day, as Hugo Chung picked out Page Laypipe for yet another goal, despite Brown and Richard’s defensive pressure on the ball.
Newcastle quickly responded, as Jake “Snake” McNair was able to get on the end of Deehan’s face-off, to set up Ramsbottom to score again. Though Sheffield hit back straight away, Newcastle were uncharacteristically unfazed, and kept their composure.
Since the half-time break, McNair had grown into the game, showing speed, stamina and an on-the-ball composure that Newcastel had been lacking at times. Again pouncing on a Deehan face-off, McNair laid the ball into the path of Doyle, who was again struck down by Sheffield’s Tatton. The expert opinion on the sideline was “if you want to get Conor down, you’ve got to be a bit of a lump.”
Following impressive build-up play from Doyle, Richards and Kearney, Ramsbottom set up “Snakey Jakey” to grab his first of the game, and then George Band and McNair combined to score another to set up a tight finish, only for Sheffield to snatch the game at the end.
On the balance of play, Sheffield probably deserved to take the game 8-6, but it was a spirited performance from Newcastle that demonstrated their ability to mix it with the best in the league. It’s unlikely that most will expect Newcastle to finish top of the league again this year, but they’ve got a good chance of going far in every competition they’re competing in this year.
MOTM: Jake "Snake" McNair