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Melbourn II v Newmarket II (21st November)

Melbourn won 19-3

Having gone top of the table after the previous round against Newmarket’s first team, Melbourn were keen to follow it up with a win over Newmarket’s second team. Interestingly, Newmarket’s second team had put in a good performance against their first team a few weeks previously, nearly winning on the night so it wasn't a foregone conclusion that Melbourn would win it.

First up was Sean at string 5 against Matt Harber. Sean has been playing really well, and needed to be on on his game to match Matt’s energy and skill levels. This was nip and tuck from the start but Sean continued his good form and was playing well, fighting for every point, driving well and also bringing more drops into his game. Sean was moving his opponent around the court very well and was able to hold off the challenge in the first and second games with his consistency and shot selection, each game following an almost identical pattern. Sean took both 15-12. The third was an even closer affair, but Sean's confidence in his game probably made the difference and took the game 16-14 and the match a creditable 3-0 against a tough opponent.

Gareth, playing at string 4 was next up. Gareth has been on a run of 4 wins from 4, and 6 wins from 7 in the season so far. He was up against Graham Clark. Gareth surged ahead early in the first game and into a commanding lead. However, a series of unforced errors along with good attacking play from Graham brought the scores closer before Gareth steadied himself to take the game 15-12. In the second game, again Gareth took an early lead, this time however he maintained his concentration and with tidier drives, more energy and bringing some variety to his shot selection, he maintained the lead to win it 15-7. The third game was similar with Gareth again going ahead early and he didn’t let up, finishing the game 15-6 and taking the match 3-0.

Colm was playing at string 3, against Oliver Pynn who he had played previously on a number of occasions, usually closely fought but Oliver always edging it. At 9-9 in the first it was close again. Ominously, Oliver took a 2 point lead at game point but let it slip and Colm nicked the game 16-14. The second game was 12-12 and again nothing between the players. A touch of luck and determined play by Colm gave him game ball, which he took to lead the match 2-0. The 2-game cushion seemed to enable Colm to play with a bit more freedom and in the third he went on a run of points to take an 11-5 lead and wasn’t going to lose from there. Colm took the match 3-0.

Playing at string 2, Jan had Paul Bragg to deal with. Paul had recently beaten their first team string 1 player and was really up for this match, so Jan had his hands full. The first game was hard fought to 11-11, when Jan found an extra gear and with some accurate play, deep drives and clever drops, he took the game 15-11 with a late surge. Back roared Paul who dominated the second game, getting Jan to do a lot of retrieving and then picking off winners. Paul took it 8-15. Jan was struggling a little to come to terms with Paul tactics and the third went Paul’s way also, this time 6-15 with a run of points early the game doing the damage. Jan changed it up a little, played smarter, lengthened the rallies to find better court positioning, basically playing to his strengths, and managed to deservedly grind out the game to win it 15-13. Going into the fifth game, the momentum was marginally with Jan, but Paul started strongly. Jan dug in to keep it close and brought it to 12-12. At this point, it was anybody’s, and Jan appeared to have the fitness and shots to apply the necessary pressure. Unlucky to hit the tin and then handing Paul an opportunity to get to match point, Jan still hung in and dragged it back to 14-14. Both players played bravely, and really went for it. It was a lottery at this point, and Paul was able to eek out a second match point, and taking the game 15-17 to win the match.

Miles, unbeaten so far in the season in Div 3, played Tony Archer at string 1. Tony was quick out of the blocks in the first game, playing on the edge, going for winners and getting them most of the time. Miles wasn’t phased and knew he had the squash level and fitness to bring the game back in his favour. At 11-11, Tony again took his opportunities to win the next 2 points and put Miles under pressure. However Miles was able to take 5 of the next 6 points and the game 16-14. Tony had put in a big effort to stay with Miles in the first game. Miles knew by increasing the pace and lengthening the rallies, it would be to his advantage and so it proved. Miles dominated the second game to take it easily 15-4. Back came Tony in the third to make a real fight of it, but it was a step too far and Miles again with his accuracy and excellent retrieving took control of the game, winning it 15-10 and the match 3-0.

Team captain Colm noted ‘While on paper we were expected to win this match easily, we knew Newmarket 2 were strong and would put up a big challenge. The team responded really positively and this was demonstrated by Jan’s determination in bringing his match down to the wire, even though he knew Melbourn had already won the match overall’.

Newmarket I v Melbourn II (17th November)

Melbourn won 15-7

A top of the table clash at Newmarket was made more of a challenge for Melbourn when unfortunately, our string 5 player was unavailable at the last minute. Playing with 4 players reduced the margin of error for Melbourn.

First up at string 4 was Colm against an experienced player in Charlie Crisp. The first game was hard fought, both players struggling to find their rhythm early on. As the game progressed however, Colm managed to get a hold of the game and see it out 15-9. The second game was more closely fought with Charlie digging in the stay in touch all through. Colm was fighting hard in every rally and was rewarded by taking the game narrowly 15-13. Colm knew he needed to up the pace and increase the energy in the third game which turned out to be more one-sided, having done the hard work in the first two. Colm took the game 15-8 and the match 3-1.

Over on the other court Jan, playing at string 3, was up against a very classy Mark Price. Jan was exerting pressure on his opponent with accurate and deep shots, picking off winners while forcing Mark into errors. Jan took the game 15-11 playing well and confidently started the second game. However, Mark’s experience and style was starting to come into it more, and he was able to shift the momentum. A series of well executed winners combined with some uncharacteristic errors by Jan contributed to Mark taking the game 9-15. Jan had the energy, skill and know-how to compete with Mark, and the thrid games was very closely fought, it could have gone either way. Mark was able to somehow get ahead at the right time, take the game and lead in the match. In the fourth, again closely contested, Jan appeared to have seized the initiative and pushed hard to take the game, but with some with some bad luck and pressure applied by his opponent, he seemed to snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, unfortunately handing Mark the opportunity to win the match, which he duly did 1-3.

Mike was up next at string 2 knowing he had to win to keep Melbourn in the match. His opponent, Matt Pearson, had been playing superbly over the previous weeks and so was bringing top form. Mike was up for this however and dominated immediately, moving the Newmarket player around the court and picking off winners at will. Mike took the first game in a commanding manner. In the second, Matt tidied up his game quite dramatically and kept the game competitive throughout. In truth, it could have gone either way, but Mike was able to take the opportunity when it presented itself at 14-14 and nicked the game. Matt appeared to be encouraged by his ability to compete with Mike and again played excellently to take the third game by the scruff of the neck and deservedly took it 15-12. Faced with the challenge, Mike responded admirably and was able to halt Matt’s momentum, retrieving well and bringing some more clever deceptive shots to wrong-foot his opponent a number of times. Mike wrestled back control of the match, winning the fourth game 15-13 and the match 3-1.

Playing at string 1, Miles was facing an agile, quick, skillful and unpredictable Hamish Jogee. Contrasting styles would hopefully made for a highly entertaining game. While Miles was the better player, Hamish was able to retrieve and find shots out of nowhere to keep it close. Miles, probably feeling a little relieved, managed to take the first game 15-13. The second game followed a similar pattern, however it was noticeable that Miles was gaining more control, and while the scoreline of 15-12 was again close, there was a clear gap forming, and it would be interesting to see how the third game would go. Miles, with the cushion of being 2 games up, applied more pressure and pace from the start of the third and surged ahead, dominating with a variety of short and long, drops and lobs, taking the game 15-5 and the match 3-1. Miles had one shot of pure class in particular than needs mentioning, it will be referred to throughout the rest of the season, a deceptive-back-handed-boast-come-lob-with-spin which was unplayable for this opponent, this is not doing the shot justice. It did illustrate his potential to complete in higher divisions.

Team captain Colm commented ‘the team were up against it tonight, with Gareth who has been playing brilliantly, unfortunately not making it, and we responded with a big performance to again take the match and continue our good form’.

Hunts County III vs Melbourn II (10th November)

Melbourn won 14-8

This match pitted third against second in the Cambs Division 3 table, and it was a suitably strong affair for two high flying teams – previous Hunts vs Melbourn matches have seen Jan play Andy Budd (Buddy) at top string; today Jan was at 3 for Melbourn and Buddy at 4 for the home side!

Some high quality Squash, worthy of Hunts’ show court, was anticipated of the evening once the teams were written up on the big board on the stand (yup, Hunts County have a court which can hold a proper audience)… and we got to see it immediately as the first strings, Miles for Melbourn and Sean Broderick for Hunts, decided as they were both there, changed and ready and no-one else was that they might as well go on first [well, the no.1s don’t normally get a chance to hit the bar post match, do they…?]. The match proved worthy of its billing as the players battled it out with very little between them. Miles initially had the upper hand in game 1, but saw his lead whittled away to a tie-break. He won this, and admitted after the match that it had been crucial to the final outcome. Which was a 3-1 win for Melbourn as Miles took the second comfortably, saw Sean come back hard to take the third, but having a 2-0 lead Miles was able to conserve some energy in the latter stages of this ready to hit the fourth, which he did effectively to seal a 16-14, 15-9, 11-15, 15-11 win.

Meanwhile Gareth (5) was on the glass back next door against Ian Gabriel. Gareth started well, building a lead in the first part of the first game and then doing enough to hold it through the rest of the game. The second also saw Gareth on top, even with letting a few points go begging as Ian rope-a-doped him, standing still at the back having hit the ball short which led to Gareth racing forward with eyes on the ball and not aware where his opponent was, so pumped it deep… right back to where Ian was standing. Sneaky. Despite this Gareth saw out the game and then did likewise in the third as his length and hitting was causing Ian to chase too much. Gareth won 15-12, 15-10, 15-11.

Jan (3) followed Gareth on, taking on Paul Goodwin. Recent matches have seen Jan have problems starting both matches and individual games, and unfortunately this was another – Paul was rapidly 6-0 up in the opener as he found dying lengths that Jan was unable to dig out of the back corners. Teammates advice was clear after game 1 – “don’t fall 6-0 down!” Jan obliged – he was just 6-1 behind in the second. D’Oh! A comeback in the mid-game closed this lead down to 10-8, but a key missed (tinned) drop shot at that point was a killer, Jan losing the game 15-11. That set Paul back in charge as he once again raced into an early lead (6-2 this time) and then held on comfortably as Jan was beaten 7-15, 11-15, 6-15.

Back over on the show court, Liam (4) was up against the running and hitting of Buddy. The first game was very close, but went against Liam on a tie-break despite the Melbourn player feeling he was playing the better Squash. However Buddy’s scrambles and counter-punching were proving annoyingly effective in turning around rallies that Liam had been dictating, and that was clearly getting under the Melbourn player’s skin. Which was a distraction he didn’t need, and contributed to a 14-16, 10-15, 9-15 defeat… and a snapped racquet. Frustrating.

So we were now at two strings all ahead of the final match, which pitted Mike (2) against Matt Vandenboss. Everything looked bright for Melbourn in the opening game as Mike utterly dominated, moving beautifully to get on the ball early, allowing him to hold his shots causing Matt to guess… and the ball to go the other way. Matt was also nowhere near his best in the opener but improved in the second, at the same time as Mike lost focus and made a string of mistakes. This game went wrong rapidly, from a 6-4 lead to a 12-6 deficit, and somehow it was a game all. Game on? Well, not quite as having lost his focus Mike then refound it and kept it. Games three and four were closer than the first now Matt was playing better, but Mike’s movement was back and his holds, particularly for down-the-wall shots out of the front backhand corner, were proving extremely effective. Matt was also going redder and redder from the work his was having to put it – if he had got it to the fifth it was questionable whether he would even be able to stand! Fortunately it didn’t come to that as Mike wrapped up a 15-4, 6-15, 15-8, 15-10 success.

Mike’s win meant Melbourn had triumphed on the night 3-2, 14-8 overall. Which keeps us second in the table, and now within 7 points of leaders Newmarket 1sts after they suffered a surprise first defeat of the season. Melbourn are at Newmarket next as well…

Jan was skipper for the night. He commented “This was a very high quality match for Division 3 – both teams were basically at full strength. Miles was challenged for the first time this season, but came through it well, and Gareth was impressively clinical. Then it all fell on Mikey, and he got the job done nicely.”