After two years of defeats, men’s lacrosse came so close to finally beating their arc rivals Southampton in the Varsity fixture. Southampton, who are in the premier division of the BUCS lacrosse league, came from 2-1 down to win 4-2.
Before the game, the clash of mentality was obvious, with Southampton’s coaches donning suits for their team talk, and the visitors only just retaining the services of Yestin Williams, who finished playing for the men’s 3rds rugby team, minutes before the start.
Un-surprisingly, the home side started quickly, with an early attack but Portsmouth’s goalkeeper Rob Gardner, who had a fantastic game, was called into early action and managed to make the save.
Portsmouth began to fight their way back into the game after initial nerves, with their first counter attack of the game forcing a save from the opposition keeper. A ruckus in the box followed and the home side were able to kick the ball away.
Clearly believing they should have the ascendency, Southampton began bullying their way back into the match, but this had the adverse effect, as the opposition striker was sin-binned for two minutes.
Immediately following the decision, Southampton’s heads had dropped and David Melder used the man advantage to well effect, breaking into the are and finding the bottom right hand corner. 1-0 to the visitors in this crucial clash.
The home side were visibly rattled, and the intense away support from the side-lines was quite obviously going some way to jade their players.
Pompey sustained the pressure and the keeper had to contend with shots from Melder and Dominic Milburn. Southampton then called for a time out when Pompey’s spirits were sky high.
Pompey ended the first quarter on top and defensively sound, with Gardner blocking the opposition striker from shooting and Patrick Small blocking early during the following attack.
However, straight after the restart it seemed the visitors defence switched off for a second and the Southampton attacker was given space in the area, placing it into the bottom left hand corner.
Frustrated by their heads dropping, Pompey attacked fiercely from the restart. Melder picked the ball up from just behind the goal and made a fantastic dash around the right post to place himself into a shooting position. One well dispatched finish later, and Pompey had made it 2-1. The scenes on the side of the pitch were unbelievable, with no-one expecting to be beating Southampton.
Pompey then settled down into a steady rhythm for the rest of the quarter. Gardner was called into action three times, but saved every shot that was peppering his goal, and Todd Smith put the opposition attack under a lot of pressure when they broke into his half The visitors, went into half time astounded by their lead.
After a great period of play at the start of the third quarter, Southampton drew level back to 2-2, with the visitor’s defence, switching off once again. The legs of the home side would prove the difference.
Then, after a sustained attack from Portsmouth, Southampton countered quickly following a shot from Milburn and a tame shot rolled over the line for 3-2 to the home side.
Unlike a lesser team, Pompey did not become dejected following the goal, Ashleigh Heitman had a great chance down the other end, but the keeper did well to parry and clear. The resulting counter attack ended with Southampton smashing the ball into the visitor’s net for 4-2.
Portsmouth kept up this high pressure through the likes of Melder and McGuinness, but these came to nothing.
At the start of the final quarter, Pompey’s heads had dropped but their spirits were still inside somewhere, it was just a case of finding them sooner rather than later.
However, it was too little too late for the mens team and after Heitman was sin-binned the final whistle went. A spirited effort by the visitors, who put their recent form behind them with an impressive performance against big hitters Southampton.
After the game, lacrosse club President and recently elected VP for Sports Ben Conway said: “It was a fantastic contest, and the fact that we’ve just held a Premiership level team to two goals is fantastic, great game, great spirit.”
Asked about the appeal of Varsity, Conway added: “The team spirit is the best bit about Varsity, we just lost but we’ve never been in higher spirits, its that Pompey spirit which is fantastic about Varsity.”