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Peterborough III vs Melbourn II (16th March)

Melbourn lost 8-14

The final game of the season took the 2nds up the A1 to face Peterborough. The pressure was off as it was effectively certain we would finish fourth in Division 3, which is the team’s best ever position. Could we live up to it on the night, though?

First to try was Matt Walker, who took on a super fit young player Renzo Rozza Gonzalez at 5th string. The first two games saw Renzo chasing hard, and also defending with quality. When he had the chance to attack though Renzo didn’t really go for kills. Matt had success when he pushed up the court and tried to kill, less so when he stayed deeper and tried to out-rally the home player. Matt’s attack was decisive enough to get through a tight opening game, and then a some fraught second with some interaction between the players on court and the marker. Once again Matt battled through, this time in a breaker during which both players had game points, and that was decisive as Renzo’s head dropped in game three and his effort levels with it, Matt got control of the front wall and began to volley drop his opponent to death, Matt winning 15-13, 17-15, 15-6.

The other first match on was the third string, Gareth Jones taking Jose Carlos Corriera. This was a bizarre match when the players were apparently evenly matched based on very close game scores… except the points when it bursts. Very extended bursts. Game 1 was a prime example as Gareth built an 8-1 with consistent line and length play, but then got confident and felt he could try things. Cue seven points in a row for Jose as he got the chance to play his clever kills. Gareth refocused, built another lead (up to around 13-9), got expansive again and found himself game ball down at 14-13 but saved it and then won the breaker. This got no more sensible in the later games as this pattern of Gareth controlling for half-a-dozen rallies and then Jose doing likewise continued – what was weird was these were quite extended exchanges so it wasn’t like serve was dominating, even if the server was. Gareth once again did enough to edge each game though, wrapping up a 16-14, 15-12, 15-12 victory.

The fourth strings followed the thirds on to the court, with Sean Hamilton taking on Pierre Caruso. The first games saw Sean getting caught by Pierre’s high serves, which Sean was volleying but being dragged cross court (a function of his foot position waiting for the returns) which was allowing Pierre to pounce to kill. The first pair of games escaped on the back of this despite Sean fire-fighting as hard as possible. Game three brought a change of tactics from Sean, looking to exploit height to get the ball deep and force Pierre into the back corners. There was also an adjustment in the foot position, which meant Sean was now able to volley his returns down the wall, also turning his opponent. This changed the pattern, allowing Sean to sneak through the game. Optimism leaped… and was then crushed as Pierre adjusted in turn, taking more volleys to neutralise the high balls. This saw Sean go down 7-15, 9-15, 15-13, 8-15.

Next to start was the second strings, which pitted Colm O’Gorman against Justin Snart. Game one saw Colm produce his best Squash, which is hard running tenacious defence. This was forcing errors from Justin as he strove for extra tight kills that would get away from Colm’s racquet, Colm counterpunching his way to a narrow (and excellent) opening game. This was great against a player rated higher than Colm on Squashlevels, but sadly it the intensity and speed of movement needed was too much to maintain, and with Colm slowing down just a fraction Justin was able to get the extra little bit of space he needed to play his kills rather than over-forcing. The change in balance was very minor, but it was enough to turn the opening game win into a 15-13, 11-15, 9-15, 10-15 loss.

That sent the match to a deciding rubber at top string where Jan Brynjolffssen took on Tim Millington. Tim is known for his touch shots and creativity, with Jan getting worrying hints from acquaintances in the host club that “He is in good form at the moment”. Concerning, given the relative disparity in the players ratings - ~2900 for Tim to ~2100 for Jan. Give or take. Rounded up for the lower and down for the higher.
Jan started OK, trading points as he managed to cover Tim’s boasts into his front forehand corner. But as the game progressed Tim began to find his shots, including somehow wrong-footing Jan on drop shots when Tim was in front and had his eyes on the ball rather than his opponent. Pure witchcraft! That eventually saw a good, competitive but ultimately clearly won game go the home side’s way. Jan tried to battle in the second and even held a slight lead at the mid-stage as he straightened his lines out and did everything he could to keep the ball away from the centre of the court, but once again this was a cue for Tim to up his deception levels to build a 2-0 lead. The writing was on the wall at this point, though when Jan led 8-4 in the third he did have a brief hope of at least registering a point. No dice as Tim once again stepped things up. He was even confident enough to let a stroke go on match ball, instead playing a long, drawn out, utterly lungbusting rally that saw both players move to all four corners before Tim eventually sealed things. Jan lost 11-15, 10-15, 10-15.

And with that the 2nds season was over. It hadn’t quite been as successful overall as had once looked possible – the team was top of the Division at Christmas after a 7-2 opening half – but still it was an excellent showing with 10 wins from 18 fixtures, which was good for 229 points. This left the side fourth in the final table, 36 points off the promotion spots, 12 behind third, but a clear 25 ahead of the side in fifth.

Newmarket II vs Melbourn II (16th March)

Melbourn won 18-6

Having played and lost to Newmarket 1sts at home the previous week, the 2nds looked to do better against the Suffolk club’s 2nd team… though with nearly two weeks between the matches due to prefer days for home games (Monday in our case, Thursday for both Newmarket sides) the previous loss was more of a distant memory when fighting to find a car parking space at Newmarket Leisure Centre – 6:50pm is NOT the time to show up there, clearly! Or rather it is the time, and everyone within a 20 mile radius thinks that.

Having finally dumped all cars (on pavements, in bushes, standing on their nose, whatever tiny bit of space was available) the match got underway with Matt Walker (4) taking on Gary Last on the glass back and Roger Woodfield (5) facing off with Chris Talbot next door. Roger had a clear advantage in terms of touch and shotcraft, Chris was clearly the fitter player. The key was rally construction – who could force their opponents to attempt things beyond their capacity. For most of games 1 and 2 it was Roger who achieved this for a slender, but key proportion of the rallies as he got up court to put in his super tight drops. The start of the third saw Roger dropping too deep, nullifying his attacks and allowing Chris to control the front court and make Rog run (booo!). However a deep dig allowed Roger to find the energy to maintain a decent ‘t’ position, high enough often enough to turn the game around from 8-4 down or so and complete his 15-13, 15-12, 15-12 win.

Meanwhile Matt was struggling initially with Gary’s attacking style, Matt not getting the ball deep enough so he was often playing from behind his opponent. Not a great strategy against a player who wants to end the rally early. There was also a lack of sharpness in Matt’s movement as he gets himself back into the swing of team Squash. The second saw an improvement based on sheer bloody-mindedness/determination, Matt now getting the ball past Gary, forcing recovery shots from the Newmarket player that finally allowed Matt to get in his super volley drops. Mistakes crept back into Matt’s game at the start of the third, which became tighter than ideal. What Matt needed was motivation to focus on every rally – he derived it from some marking calls that surprised him, Matt using the frustration to cut any looseness from his game in the crucial rallies. How crucial this was was evident from the fourth as Matt was finally feeling confident and able to dominate the service line, get his volley drops in consistently to complete an 11-15, 15-8, 15-13, 15-8 win.

Matt was followed on the glass back by Gareth Jones (3), who took on Oliver Pynn. The first game can be summed up as Gareth-esque, as he started extremely well, built a lead but as soon as he did so began to feel comfortable which prompted him to experiment with varying his play to keep the thing from getting boring. Not a great idea as the initial pattern, conservative choices pumping the ball deep and tight, was the right method to win rallies against a player whose biggest strength is his fitness rather than his back corner retrieving. Despite letting Oliver back into the game (“I felt a sudden haemorrhaging of points” G. Jones) but a return to ‘less fancy stuff’ in the tie-break saw Gareth get through. Rinse, shake and repeat in game two, with drop shot errors seeing Gareth’s early lead evaporate, only for a reversion to line-and-length recovering the situation once again.
This sort of turn around didn’t prove possibly in games three and four though as in these ones Gareth attempted to affect the comeback with power kills on the run. Somewhat fitness driven, but tactically unsound as Oliver was waiting in position on the service line with sufficiently quick reactions to counter-drop the low balls for winners (if they even got over the tin in the first place). Advice from teammates before the decider was to lift balls to service line height in those situations to start getting depth again. This worked a charm as Gareth built a lead, only to squander it with unforced errors. However the early running proved enough in the end as Oliver was equally generous in turn with some crucial mistakes right at the death as Gareth saw out a 16-14, 15-13, 11-15, 11-15, 15-11 success.

The second string pitted Colm O’Gorman against Wayne Bamforth. Wayne was rapid in his lateral movement and had great touch at the front of the court, with Colm attempting his scrambling game in response. This led to Wayne rather dictating the first game play, Colm haring about the place as effectively as he could but having to work through some interference to try and do so. Game two saw Colm turn things around as he found ways to get the ball past Wayne into the back corners (width, variety and lobs working wonders) which meant he was now the player asking the movement questions, which weren’t successfully answered. Unfortunately Colm was not able to maintain this in the third and fourth as Wayne was able to hold the service line once again and bring his accurate drops and boasts into play, the outcome being a 13-15, 15-9, 11-15, 10-15 for the Melbourn player.

The top string pitted Jan Brynjolffssen (1) against Paul Bragg. This was a repeat of a clash earlier in the season at Melbourn that Paul had won 17-15 in the fifth… Jan did remember that he had lost that encounter but had successfully blanked how close it had been! What was recalled though was Paul’s style, which includes lots of boasts and drops – he has lovely touch. Jan’s task was to keep the ball away from Paul on the service line and make him play up-and-down the walls, but this was not easily done against a player for whom cutting it out was key. However Jan managed to be tight enough in his lengths and quick enough in his movement chasing down the short balls to edge out the first and then take the second a bit more comfortably.
The third saw Paul find his range at the start and build a lead. From 12-9 down Jan dug in, making the rallies as physical as he could; this worked a charm as a 12-9 deficit became a 13-12 lead. The next rally was the vital as Paul played a really tight drop that Jan chased and lunged for, but more in a performative “you’ve got to try” sense than in any real belief he was going to get it. Except he did get his racquet to the ball just before the second bounce with an absolutely as powerful as possible swipe… which got just enough on the ball to creep it a millimetre over the tin for a stone dead counter-drop! A mistake from Paul on the next rally completed things, Jan taking a 15-12, 15-9, 15-12 victory to wrap up a 18-6 win for the team.

Melbourn II vs Newmarket I (6th March)

Melbourn lost 8-17

Back in the autumn the 2nds had picked up our best win of the opening half of the campaign when we won 15-7 at Newmarket 1sts. That had pushed us clear at the top of the table, where we remained at Christmas with Newmarket among the sides chasing hard. A few months down the line though things had changed as Newmarket had gone on a run of wins to take over at the top, benefitting in part from the 2nds simultaneous run of losses. There was much to play for when the sides meet again, then.

The first match to get underway would prove to be the most dramatic of the evening as Gareth (4) took on Mark Price. Gareth started well, hitting to depth and finding lengths with Mark – a notoriously dogged player – looking completely out of sorts with himself, the court and his body. Gareth was getting lots of joy in the back corners as Mark struggled to dig balls out, leading to a 15-9 first game claim. The second was even more one sided as Gareth pounded Mark back and Mark seemed disinterested in fighting. 15-4.
When Gareth built a 12-8 lead in game three a 3-0 win seemed on the cards, but a key error at that point proved costly as Mark at last woke up and began to play the sort of tenacious Squash he is known for. Six straight rallies got the Newmarket player to game points and though Gareth saved one he couldn’t claw back the game. The fourth also went the visiting players way with a late burst, and when Gareth fell 7-0 down to start game five, he and his cause seemed lost. That became 11-2 and eventually 14-8, but behind the 8-ball Gareth suddenly began to exploit Mark’s lack of mobility (he could barely move, in fact!) and saved one, two, three match balls. That became all of them, and not only that Gareth got a match ball of his own at 15-14. However, having found the pattern of push Mark back and then cut the ball short Gareth unaccountably turned down a simple drop on this point but rather started to smack the ball to the back of the court… where Mark was standing. Presumably tension, but this was Gareth’s undoing as he eventually lost the game 19-17 and was left contemplating how he had fallen 15-9, 15-4, 13-15, 11-15, 17-19.

Next door the first match on pitted Colm (3) against Matt Pearson, who has been getting some eye-catching results this season. However Colm’s game is rather made for playing against Matt, who is a high class shot-maker but not necessarily the best mover on the court; perfect for Colm’s retriever style to counter.
The first game was close throughout, with the lead changing hands numerous times. Again, the sort of battle that Colm relishes and one he won 15-13. And that set the pattern for the match as Colm was able to chase down enough of Matt’s kills and play successful counters. Matt kept pushing the play where he could, having the better of the final phase of the third game but Colm had his teeth truly in to this one and claimed a superb win 15-13, 12-15, 15-10, 15-12.

Following Colm on Court 1 was Sean (5), who took on Charlie Crisp. Sean hasn’t played all that much recently but was in decent form in the opener, particularly during a run of six straight rallies won in the mid-game which turned an 8-4 opening deficit into a 10-8 lead. After that things were nip and tuck, Charlie getting to game ball first at 14-13, but Sean saving it and then making the most of that by closing out the tie-break. This, however, proved something of a false dawn as Sean’s lack of recent court time gradually came to the fore as he tired and was unable to retrieve quite as effectively as he had. The difference was fractions of a second in speed over the deck, but that is enough to change the games from absolutely level pegging to tipped slightly but decisively in Charlie’s favour. Games scores were 16-14, 12-15, 8-15, 5-15.

Over on Court 2 Jan (2) was taking on Santiago Uribe Lewis. Jan was coming in with high confidence after a great win the previous week… but was swiftly wondering where this had gone as Santi powered into a 12-3 game one lead. What Jan was trying was simply not causing his opponent any discomfort, and despite grinding some rallies late in the game to get a few more points the first was gone. Game 2 was better from the Melbourn player’s perspective as he was able to move his opponent more, drawing errors particularly when he got the ball deep into the backhand corner. Jan even led this game 13-12, but paid for a key error at 13-all as the game escaped 15-13.  And that was that really as Santiago pushed himself back up to his first game level to close out the third comfortably and leave Jan deflated after a 7-15, 13-15, 8-15 loss.

Jan’s loss meant the match was over as a contest before Mike (1) began against Hamish Jogee. The opening game of this one had Hamish’s stamp all over it, i.e. utterly bizarre. The Newmarket player is well known on the circuit for both his skill and his wild inconsistency in applying it, with spectators breath regularly drawn in after he hits the ball – but as often as not for a extraordinary error as a spectacular winner. Mike got thrown by this and never found his usual rhythm in the shorter-than-expected rallies. However he did dig in and improve the tightness of his shots late in the game, dragging the game back to a tie-break. This started with a game ball to Hamish that he could have called a probable stroke on, but didn’t and then tinned his drop shot instead. D’Oh! And another pattern was set as the tie-break went on, and on, and on. In the end it was close to a whole extra game before it finally broke Hamish’s way 24-22.
Game two saw Hamish up the winners and reduce the errors which took it off Mike’s racquet and left him needing to win the third. This seemed in the bag when Mike raced into an 8-0 lead with some solid player that offered Hamish few chances for winners but lots of opportunity to make errors… except this was then followed by a hot spell from the Newmarket player as he won 8 of the next 9 rallies to drag the game back to 9-8! Mike managed to play the remainder of the game on his terms to claim it, but this proved a false dawn as the fourth again saw Hamish as the key player on court, which resulted in a 22-24, 7-15, 15-12, 7-15 defeat for Mike, a rare reverse for him in what has been a very impressive campaign.

After the match Melbourn skipper Jan commented “We gave it our best, but they are a strong side who will probably be champions of our Division this season, and were too strong here.”