Newcastle Vikings’ men’s team won their first England Handball Regional League North title by picking up the draw they needed in their second of three matches on Saturday.
With the Universities of Warwick and Leeds opting not to take part in the final weekend of league competition, thus forfeiting their remaining fixtures, it was all set to be a straight shoot-out between leaders Newcastle Vikings and second-placed University of Birmingham to decide the league championship, with the Vikings having two games in hand.
And the two sides were up against each other in the opening match of the tournament-style day at the Richard Dunn Sports Centre in Bradford. Birmingham had the better of the first half, taking a 5-3 advantage into the break. The Vikings narrowed the gap in the second half, lead by six goals in the game from half-player Pablo Docampo, but Birmingham held on for a narrow 12-11 win.
Newcastle’s second match saw them build an 8-6 half-time lead against the University of Loughborough II. But the student team edged ahead in the second half, before a frantic finish saw centre Julien Eng fire in his seventh goal of the game in the final second to snatch a 14-14 draw. The two points was enough to ensure they could not be caught at the top of the league table and secure them their first league title to emulate the achievement of the Vikings women’s team last season.
In their final match against the University of Lincoln, the Tynesiders once again took a two-goal 8-6 advantage into the interval. But despite Lincoln pulling back to take a 12-14 win, it was Matthew Lamb’s fourth goal at the start of the second half that was the highlight of the game for the Vikings. In scoring his 100th league and cup goal, the winger became only the second Newcastle male player to reach the century milestone (just three weeks after Eng had done so), on the same day when he also became the first of the men to make 50 club appearances. The first league title made it a well-deserved landmark hat-trick day for one of the founding members of the club.
Meanwhile, Newcastle’s women were also in action over in Liverpool at the Greenbank Sports Academy. The reigning league champions went into the final day of tournament-style matches sitting in third place and with an outside mathematical chance of retaining their title if results went their way. But a narrow 13-12 defeat to second-placed University of Leeds in their opening match soon put pay to any slim hopes. The Gryphons led 7-5 at half-time, and while the Vikings tried their best to fight back, led by four goals from half-player Rosa Larcy, the university side held on for the win.
A low scoring second game dominated by solid defences saw Manchester take a 3-5 half-time lead. The Vikings then scored four unanswered second-half goals to move in front, before the Mancunians
agonisingly grabbed two late goals to draw the match 7-7.
The Vikings rounded off their season against champions-elect Liverpool and played their best performance of the day in taking a 6-8 lead into the break, Larcy leading the way with five strikes as goalkeeper Andrea King saved another two penalties at the other end to back up some brilliant defensive play. However, four early second-half goals soon put the home side ahead and, despite three penalties from Blessing Ogbee in a four-goal haul for the winger, Newcastle were unable claw the game back as Liverpool’s ladies regained the league title with a 16-14 victory with the Vikings finishing a point behind the University of Leeds in third.
Newcastle Vikings men: Daniel Walsh (GK), Pål Jakobsen (GK), Craig Swanson (4 goals), Matthew Lamb (5), Benoit Barthel, Mohamed Fedi Boussema (4), Julien Eng (11), Pablo Docampo (9), Mark Harrison (4).
Newcastle Vikings women: Andrea King (GK), Marie Thompson (4 goals), Judyta Turulska (4), Katerina Gibson (1), Rosa Larcy (11), Maren Liane (1), Blessing Ogbee (7), Sandra Christke-Lamb, María José González (5).