A Chris Lambert hat-trick helped St Catherine’s to a comfortable victory over St Hugh’s in the only JCR Premier League match of 3rd week. Despite plenty of rustiness from both sides, given that neither had played a competitive match since November, Catz had enough guile to see off their opponents, and fully deserved their 4-0 win.
With unbeaten Exeter out of action, Catz closed the gap on the league leaders to three points, and captain Harry Whittle is optimistic that the Marston Road outfit can mount a title challenge. “It was a solid all-round performance,” Whittle noted diplomatically. “And with a full-strength team I’m confident we can win the league.”
Even without top scorer Joe Davies, the hosts’ forward line threatened throughout, with persistent movement from Whittle – “not a natural centre-forward” – testing the Hugh’s centre-backs’ post-Christmas fitness. The pacey Jamie Windmill threatened early on to break the deadlock, and when he nipped past Steve Cross and saw his shot parried by Hugh’s keeper Paul Kim, Lambert was on hand to lash the loose ball into the top of the net.
Although hat-trick hero Lambert grabbed the limelight, Whittle was quick to praise central midfielder Ed Steele, whose interplay with Chris Lighton and Alonso-like passing range were central to Catz’s impressive ball retention. It was Steele’s through ball which freed Whittle to cross for Windmill to tap home and take Catz into a deserved half-time lead.
Hugh’s’ difficulties were compounded by an injury to captain Jose Waterton shortly before the break. Bemoaning the absence of “four or five first team players”, including Blues man Mark Jamison, who was later to score in the Xchanging Brookes Varsity fixture, Waterton drew encouragement from the contributions of the Hugh’s second string. “There was a definite improvement in the second half,” said the centre-back, “and we’re hoping to continue improving, with several big games coming up.”
The second half was a scrappier affair, presumably due to both sides’ lack of match sharpness. Catz persisted, though, in a bid to improve their goal difference, and Lambert doubled his tally, dinking the ball over Kim, after a jinking run and pass from Windmill had bisected the Hugh’s defence.
The more the game went on, the more Hugh’s looked like troubling the scorers, but Percy Preston and Sam Byrne were denied by a combination of wayward finishing, smart saves from Catz keeper Joe Kidd, and the excellent anticipation of Dan O’Connor, a defender alleged to have once been on Arsenal’s books. Lambert’s third, a penalty awarded after Kim felled the same player, was ample reward for Catz’s greater incision in the opposition box.
Whittle was entitled to feel better about Catz’s title credentials after a “stupid” 4-3 loss to Worcester in their last game in November. Hugh’s remain on course for a mid-table finish, but must first tighten up a defence which is now the leakiest in the division.