The gap at the top of the Braintree Table Tennis League has been narrowed to three points as next week’s clash between the top two approaches.
Champions Liberal A and Netts A, league winners in 2011 and 2012, go head to head on Thursday (April 9) in a match that could decide the title.
A surprise draw for Liberal against Rayne B, whom Netts had beaten 8-2 the previous week, reduced the distance between the two teams.
Liberal were forced to field reserve Mike Johnston and his win over Peter Hance turned out to be vital in avoiding defeat.
Ryan Pitt and Lee McHugh both beat Johnston while Pitt beat Simon Webber (at 12-10 in the fifth game) and McHugh overcame Scott Dowsett. They also combined to win the doubles.
Netts meanwhile faced a Rayne A team who had only two players, one of them a reserve, and scored an 8-2 win.
The match was not without its dramas, not least Kevin Gowlett’s struggle to get past Hance, which he eventually managed 11-8, 11-7, 9-11, 8-11, 12-10.
Patrick Gilbert had a good win over Jon Hill, who in turn beat Andy Holmes, both sets being decided at 11-9 in the fifth.
Assuming all their players are available, both Liberal and Netts face difficult decisions over their choice of team for next week’s clash.
Still troubled by his long-term wrist injury, Peter Hayden did not play in either of the previous two matches against Netts but remains undefeated in all other matches.
Ian Hayden has enjoyed a renaissance this year and currently stands on 86 per cent, while Scott Dowsett is on 77 and Simon Webber on 74.
Paul Davison and Kevin Gowlett will almost certainly play for Netts A but will they turn to leading Suffolk veteran Andy Holmes, or John Cleasby, beaten only twice in 24 sets this season, or 18-year-old Patrick Gilbert, spurred by his recent wins over Steve Pennell (see below) and Jon Hill?
In addition to their defeat by Netts A, Rayne A were held to a draw by their own D team and have seen their hold on third place weakened considerably as Netts B picked up 18 points over the same period with wins over Rayne C (10-0) and Rayne D (8-2).
Rayne D’s Adam Buxton picked up his three singles against Rayne A but was prevented by James Hicks from following suit against Netts B.
Undefeated evenings for men’s singles champion Steve Kerns helped Black Notley A to two wins, 6-4 over Liberal B and 8-2 against Felsted RBL A.
The latter match included a landmark win for 74-year-old David Swash.
Normally a division three player, he has been helping out the A team for much of the season knowing nothing was expected of him. That may change now after he recorded his first success at this level, a 6-11, 11-8, 5-11, 11-5, 11-5 win over Guy McKenzie.
Sible Hedingham increased their lead in division two after a 9-1 win over Notley E. Bryan Speller’s 11-3, 11-6, 11-8 dismissal of Richard Jennings earned Notley E a point.
No one went home unbeaten in Rayne F’s draw with Notley C.
Matt Wallace notched up a win over Dave Marsh, second in the division’s individual averages, but lost to John Robinson.
Fifteen-year-old Patrick Bugg, who has only recently made his league debut, showed he is quickly getting to grips with things by overcoming Mike Pitt, a man with a near 50 per cent average, in Notley F’s 7-3 defeat by their own G team in division three.
As well as their league win over Rayne A, Netts A also knocked them out of the team knock-out cup 6-1. Victory was clinched by a win for Patrick Gilbert, clearly in good form at the moment, over Steve Pennell.
In the handicap cup, Rayne E and Felsted B both reached the semi-finals with 7-2 wins, Rayne over Notley C and Felsted over Notley H. Steve Siggs and Dave Miller were unbeten for Rayne E and Dean Wood for Felsted.