Newcastle Vikings’ men’s and women’s teams were both knocked out of the England Handball League Cup on Saturday away to Reading Lions, but still came away with their heads held high after gutsy team performances highlighted by first Vikings goals for both regular goalkeepers!
Having set off from Newcastle at 4:30am and a seven-hour coach ride to Reading’s Loddon Valley Leisure Centre, it was always going to be tough for two depleted makeshift Vikings teams with several players having to play out of their usual positions.
The men’s national League Cup semi-final was first up and the Vikings initially kept pace with the bigger more powerful Lions side, thanks to right-half Johannes Bellm’s early brace and one from Matthew Lamb playing in the unfamiliar centre position. A strong defensive display and some good block saves from goalkeeper Mark Harrison between the posts helped to keep Reading’s attacks at bay, while Bellm continued to lead the way at the other end of the court, with line-players Holger Schulz and Craig Swanson also on target. However, Reading started to open out a lead and by half-time had a 16-9 advantage.
The home side continued to stretch out their lead in the second half, while Bellm’s back-court shooting took his personal match tally of ten for the Vikings. Lamb also scored twice more on the break, and Swanson added a late double from the line position. But it was an unexpected goal mid-way through the half from usual goalkeeper Daniel Walsh, playing out on court on the left-wing for the first time, that brought the biggest cheers from the Vikings players and supporters as he came round and struck with an impressive jump-shot from the back-court! But despite fighting all the way, Newcastle were unable to tame the Lions as Reading progressed through to the cup final, 32-18 the final score.
Reading’s Lionesses took an early lead in the subsequent women’s League Cup quarter-final contest, before two acute-angle Eiman ElBanhawy goals from the right-wing and a Sandra Christke strike from the line position soon pulled Newcastle level. Blessing Ogbee, playing back-court for the first time, then fired into the top corner from right-half to rather unexpectedly put the Vikings ladies in front. But Reading’s accurate back-court shooting and a couple of fast-breaks helped them re-take the lead, despite some fine saves from goalkeeper Andrea King to keep the score down. Maren Liane struck back for Newcastle with a hat-trick from left-half, before Ogbee and captain Christke each scored their second goals to round off the first half, 14-9 to the Lionesses at the break.
The second-half was a lower-scoring affair as both sides fought strongly in defence, backed up by several good saves from their respective keepers. Liane scored a further two, either side of a welcome first Vikings goal from Malin Walle playing at centre. But they were unable to keep pace with the stronger Lionesses. ElBanhawy rounded off her first Newcastle game for three years with her third goal, but it was goalkeeper King who was to claim the last word, going up-court in the dying seconds to fire in her first competitive Vikings goal from distance into the bottom corner. Alas it was merely consolation as the Reading Lionesses progressed with a 22-14 win, but Newcastle’s ladies were nevertheless proud of putting in such a positive team performance given their circumstances.
Newcastle Vikings men: Mark Harrison (GK), Daniel Walsh (1 goal), Craig Swanson (2), Matthew Lamb (3), Adam Mobberley, Thomas Harrison, Holger Schulz (1), Johannes Bellm (10).
Newcastle Vikings women: Andrea King (GK, 1 goal), Malin Walle (1), Krystina Coulson, Maren Liane (5), Blessing Ogbee (2), Eiman ElBanhawy (3), Sandra Christke (2).