Report by Adam Coates
A barnstorming game between Eldon 2 and Northern 5 got underway on Monday night, with a full Northern team facing an Eldon side missing their no.1 Mark Manuel, who was away in Nepal with work, and no.2 Alan Coates, who was playing up for the First team against Northern 3.
The game between the no.5s, Dave Oxley of Eldon and Joel Birch-Machin of Northern, was the first of many nail-biters of the night. Birch-Machin took the 1st and 2nd game relatively comfortably, with Oxley struggling with some first team game nerves. Oxley settled down in the 3rd and played some good squash to take a game back and make it 2-1. The 4th game seemed all over when Birch-Machin had a handful of match balls to finish off the tie, but Oxley showed his metal and took the match into a decider, winning it 15-14. A close 5th game went almost point for point to 12-12, but Birch-Machin had just enough see the game out to win 15-12 and take the match 3-2.
Meanwhile, on court 2, Sophie Cassidy (Eldon) and Andrew Smith (Northern) were battling it out in their 4th string match. Cassidy dominated the 1st game, taking it 15-7 but Smith replied by winning the 2nd 15-12, making it one game a piece. Smith then turned the tables on Cassidy and comfortably won the 3rd game 15-7. The tide turned once again as Cassidy showed her class to tie the match up 2-2. Not too dissimilar to the decider in the no.5s game, there was nothing to separate the 2 players all the way up to 12-12, but Cassidy fought through the final few rallies to win 15-13 and take the match 3-2. This gave each team a win from the first 2 matches.
Next up were the 3rd strings; Eldon’s Andrew Webber, unbeaten this season at no.5, against Northern’s Will Christiansen. The first 2 games were relatively long and well matched, but both went to Christiansen 15-12 and 15-11 respectively. Webber fought back in the 3rd and took it comfortably 15-6. The 4th game had some mammoth rallies, with Webber’s excellent retrievals and Christiansen’s good shot making abilities making for a great match-up. Despite Webber’s movement, Christiansen’s came out on top in the majority of the long rallies and won the 4th 15-5. The overall result went 3-1 in his favour, ending Webber’s unbeaten streak.
The game between the number 2 players, James Gilbert (Eldon) and Stuart Mitchell (Northern), was the tie decider. A win for Northern would give them a victory in the fixture, but a win for Eldon would level the fixture at two matches all. Gilbert won the 1st game 15-11, as he just had the edge in the closing stages. The 2nd game took a similar pattern, Gilbert again winning a close game, this time 15-13. The next game was very stop-start due to the number of let and stroke decisions. This favoured Mitchell who took advantage of the lack of flow, winning it 15-10. This continued in the 4th game, which also went to Mitchell 15-12, setting up a 3rd 5-set match! Another game that was nip and tuck up until the final few points, Mitchell made his final push at 12 all and won the match 3-2, 15-12 in the 5th. This gave Northern the victory with one game to spare.
The final game pitted the tenacious Lee Robinson (Eldon) against the flair of Wayne “Hurricane” Hollywood (Northern). Hollywood took the match 3-0 (15-9, 15-14, 15-12), in the performance of the fixture. Despite Robinson’s strong play, Hollywood’s consistent attacking played proved too much. The highlight of the match came courtesy of Hollywood who, in an attempt to avoid a tie-breaker in the 2nd game, performed a desperate dive to retrieve a drop. Despite successfully getting the ball, Hollywood lay stricken on the floor in front of Robinson, who happily took a stroke, much to the crowd’s disappointment!
Northern came out on top to win 4-1 and move up to 3rd, and despite the loss Eldon still picked up a respectable 8 points. Overall, this was a great fixture that sums up what team squash is all about!