HENRY SWERNER CUP FINAL
NORTH LONDON RAIDERS 1 LONDON MACCABI LIONS 4
Bradley Lazarus was the hat-trick hero as LML shattered NLR's double aspirations with an emphatic victory at Wingate & Finchley.
With Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrated before the match with the crowd and Barbra Streisand – the latter courtesy of YouTube – singing the Hatikva, this was always likely to be a memorable evening, and so it proved as the newly-crowned Division One champions contested the final of the Henry Swerner Cup against the holders.
As Division One winners, NLR as favourites in the eyes of many people, but a strong Lions line-up, and a rich pedigree in recent Cup competitions suggested that the Division Two runners-up would be anything but a pushover.
The first half an hour proved to be evenly contested, with Lions perhaps shading it, although few clear-cut chances emerged as Braham Hochenberg and Barnett Horwitz marshalled their respective defences. The best chance of the opening period fell to Lions’ Stuart Coutts, but he was unable to tuck the ball the right side of the post after a frantic goalmouth scramble, earning Lions yet another in a succession of corners.
The deadlock was broken on 30 minutes after a surging run down the left by Raiders’ Wayne Davidson, whose pinpoint cross was met perfectly by Tony Plaskow who planted his header low to the ‘keeper’s right.
Lions responded positively, and Marc Morris fired just over the bar from their next attack, but Raiders could have doubled their lead two minutes later when another move down their right ended in a shot being smothered by Jeremy Reuben in Lions’ goal, and Lions frustration mounted as they ended the half restricted to a long-range free-kick.
Immediately after the break, a purposeful run down the right by Raiders’ Kevin Lotzov almost paid dividends, as his pass infield was fed to Ami Wymborne on the left of Lions area, and his well-struck shot was turned away by Reuben.
Lions began to press forward and gave a warning of what was to come as Lazarus swivelled and shot from eight yards out, only to see his effort graze the post, and after 57 minutes, they almost equalised again when Lazarus’s delightful lob beat Martin Leslie in the Raiders’ goal, only to see Hochenberg appear from nowhere to head it off the line.
However, Raiders didn't stay ahead for long, and from the resulting corner, Danny Schindler rose majestically to head in from close range to level the tie.
Lions had the bit between their teeth now, and on 62 minutes Schindler’s incisive through-ball was hit first time over the advancing ‘keeper by Morris but the ball hit the top of the bar. Once again, though, the reprieve was short-lived, and within a minute, Lazarus slotted in a loose ball to put Lions ahead for the first time.
Raiders seemed to have little answer to the growing strength of the Lions front line, and in the 71st minute, the contest was all but over, as Lazarus again received the ball on the left and cut in to release a rasping drive past the helpless keeper to make it 3-1 to Lions.
And minutes later, with his confidence visibly growing with every touch, Lazarus completed his hat-trick in spectacular style, beating Hochenberg on the left and drifting into the middle before unleashing an unstoppable drive from 25 yards that arrowed into the top right hand corner.
Raiders tried to mount a response, but they had given everything and could find no way through a resolute Lions rearguard, and when referee Nigel Burns blew the final whistle, it was akin to a boxing referee stopping the bout to save the loser from further punishment.
In the end, Lions proved to be worthy winners, and they have the opportunity to record another ‘double’ on Sunday, as they face ERDS Stonegrove in the final of the Nathan Horwitz MMFL Division 2 Cup. And not surprisingly, Bradley Lazarus was named ‘Man-of-the-Match’.
As for Raiders, there was at least some consolation after the disappointment of losing the final, as they received the Division One trophy.
It was an evening that showcased some of the best of Masters football, played in an exemplary spirit, and in a very real sense, everyone was a winner.
And with several new teams already in discussions to join the Maccabi Masters League next season, things are looking bright for the veterans’ leagues.