The Men's 1s seized victory from the jaws of defeat as they started their 14th consecutive season in the NOW:Pensions Premier League with a last-gasp 2-1 win over London rivals Wimbledon in The Cage (Pad Rec water for those new to this!)
The Wombles took an early lead in just the fifth minute and held their advantage until the dying moments – but one of our many new faces, Andy Hayward struck his first goal in the famous blue and white stripes with just four minutes left on the clock. Just one minute later, one of the oldest faces, Will Naylor tapped in his 51st Premier League goal for HWHC to win the game at the death.
Wimbledon, bolstered by the arrivals of internationals James Bailey and Ian Sloane, went into the match as favourites over a HWHC squad who have added 10 new faces themselves, but had spent very little time together in pre-season.
The visitors went on the attack from the first whistle forcing us to play deep inside our own half, attempting to shut down space as best we could. However, the expected lack of match sharpness and team understanding meant that Wimbledon had little trouble in breaking down the defence, and they scored a well-worked goal inside five minutes, an unmarked striker tapping in on the far post.
A combination of improved individual defence - Alex Jakeman standing out in particular - and profligacy from Wimbledon allowed us to gradually work ourselves back into the game and stay within one goal until the interval.
HWHC enjoyed more possession at the beginning of the second half but still struggled to put together any meaningful attacks, with Michael Hoare and George Farrant in the centre of the Wimbledon defence remaining largely untroubled.
Meanwhile, the away team continued to squander their attacking possession, including four penalty corners - one of which was cleared off the line by captain Toby Roche.
As time ebbed away and Wimbledon failed to kill the game off, Hampstead grew in confidence and, with four minutes left, they finally won a penalty corner of their own.
New boy, and Kiwi international Hayward is a specialist in such situations (did you see the World Cup and Commonwealth Games?), and he made no mistake from the top of the ‘D’, netting with a trademark strike to level the scores.
The home fans celebrated at the prospect of an unexpected point from this first, difficult fixture – but more was to come.
Moments after the restart another summer signing, James Simpson, stole the ball, allowing Oliver Didham to attack down the left and cross for Naylor, who exploited the space between the retreating defence and onrushing goalkeeper to finish expertly seconds before the final whistle.