Newcastle Vikings Handball Club’s pre-Christmas fixtures had handed them a tough call with the men’s team up against the second team of Premier League club Warrington Wolves and the ladies facing reigning champions and current league leaders Liverpool.
The men got Saturday’s matches at Benfield Centre for Sporting Excellence underway in positive fashion as player-coach Frank Smelt put the Vikings ahead with their 1,000th goal in English league and cup competitions. Centre Adam Batley kept them in the game early on, but the Wolves team featuring several players with Premier League experience soon showed their prowess to steal ahead with several opportunistic breakaways to open out a five-goal lead. Batley’s second and one from line-player Craig Swanson briefly pulled Newcastle back to within four, but by the time left-half Smelt broke through for his second goal Warrington had extended their advantage further and went into half-time 5-12 ahead.
The Vikings continued to put up a brave fight in the second half with some dogged defence to contain the away side’s attacks, while Matthew Lamb put in a brilliant Kafeneon man-of-the-match display between the posts in saving numerous Warrington shots to prevent them from totally running away with the game. Right-half Mark Harrison and right-winger Adam Mobberley added their names to the scorescheet, with Smelt and Harrison each finding the net again from the back-court before left-winger Robert Thompson saw red, forcing an injured Pablo Docampo to choose to take to the court for the latter stages to make up the numbers. Captain Mobberley fired into the top corner in the final second of the game to ensure the Vikings reached double-figures respectability, but Wolves were clear 10-20 victors at the final whistle.
With some of Liverpool’s ladies team delayed en route to the North East, in true Vikings Christmas spirit Newcastle offered to begin their game 6-a-side rather than take advantage from the outset. A brace from centre Ed Ogbee and one from left-half Marie Thomspon nevertheless put the Vikings ladies into an early lead, before normal 7-a-side service was resumed and the away side back to full strength soon edged their way back into the contest.
Not to be outdone by their male clubmates, the Vikings ladies then also notched up their 1,000th English league and cup goal on the same day through Ogbee’s third. Maria-Jose Gonzalez pivoted to score from the line position and Thompson converted from the penalty line, but both defences were on top to keep the scoring down at both ends. By half-time there was just one goal in it, 6-7 to the Merseysiders.
Right-half Alina Inta reached a milestone of her own at the start of the second half as she fired in to become only the third Vikings player to score 150 league and cup goals. Blessing Ogbee then struck twice from the right-wing, before younger sister Ed and Inta each added two more apiece to their tallies as the two sides continued to level-peg each other throughout the match. Both goalkeepers saved penalties, but the Vikings fell foul of defending too deeply into the goal area on too many occasions to gift Liverpool numerous penalty opportunities and help Brooke Partington on her way to a decisive nine-goal haul for the away side. And despite a late brace from left-half Judyta Turulska, Newcastle were ultimately unable to hold on to claim a deserved share of the points as Liverpool eventually edged them out in the final minutes 15-17.
Newcastle’s women thus go into the festive break sitting in mid-table and face a National Cup re-match away to the Merseysiders to open the new year, while the Vikings men will also be looking for improved results during the second half of the season to lift themselves off the bottom of the league table.
Newcastle Vikings men: Matthew Lamb (GK), Adam Batley (2 goals), Adam Mobberley (2), Craig Swanson (1), Robert Thompson, Mark Harrison (2), Frank Smelt (3), Pablo Docampo.
Newcastle Vikings women: Andrea King (GK), Marie Thompson (2 goals), Judyta Turulska (2), Katerina Gibson, Ed Ogbee (5), Blessing Ogbee (2), Alina Inta (3), Maria-Jose Gonzalez Alvarez (1).