Cambridge are the new holders of football’s WaiBOP Challenge Shield after beating West Hamilton United 5-2.
The shield returns to Cambridge’s John Kerkhof Park, where it was last held two years ago, and the club will defend it at every hoShieldme fixture for the rest of the season, starting with next Saturday’s match against Tauranga Old Blues.
Cambridge lifted the shield with a measured performance at United’s Weka St ground in Hamilton, providing the side with its 10th win in a row.
The victory also lifts Cambridge three points clear at the top of the WaiBOP Premiership, with six rounds to go, after all their nearest rivals dropped vital points in weekend games.
Cambridge now has the chance of finishing the season with double honours which would be a remarkable turnaround as the side was languishing near the bottom of the Premiership in May, having taken a mere seven points from their first six games.
The Reds’ latest win required steady nerves as West Ham – who took the shield from Otumoetai in an upset the week before – were fired up from the start.
For 20 minutes, the game was fought in midfield with tackles flying in and every ball being contested.
But then Callum MacLeod put Cambridge ahead with a tap in at the far post after Donovan Latham had done well to cross through a crowd of defenders.
Latham was again the provider five minutes later when he sent MacLeod racing through for an angled one-on-one with United ‘keeper Robbie Diaz.
MacLeod expertly fired across the ‘keeper and into the far corner of the goal.
Falling behind by two goals seemed to rattle the home side whose players gave away a succession of free kicks, while the Cambridge team remained calm.
This paid off as the first half entered added time and skipper Patrick Woodlock hooked a clearance from a corner over the United defenders for Latham to prod past Diaz to make it 3-0 at the break.
Ten minutes into the second half, MacLeod completed his hat-trick when he broke clear of the United defence and slotted his shot just inside the post.
In the 57th minute, referee Andy Holdsworth awarded the home side a penalty after Cambridge’s Kieran Hill handled.
United’s Harry Christensen-Rose smashed the spot kick but Cambridge goalkeeper Fraser Nichols pulled off an excellent save to keep the margin 4-0.
In the 73rd minute, Aaron Huesser got on the end of a Matt Wheeler free kick to send his looping header over Diaz and into the net.
The goal was special for both players as they both leave for overseas after this match.
To their credit, West Hamilton never stopped playing and Cambridge lost concentration late in the game, allowing Christensen-Rose and Jarred Tooley to score consolation goals in added time.
While Cambridge took three important league points from the match, their nearest rivals all failed to win.i-final next weekend against Melville United B at John Kerkhof Park (2.45pm).