Lancs and Cheshire – Senior weekend
There was a tremendous day of table tennis play at the Hilton centre when this year’s competition kicked off.
The first round of matches included the ‘match of the day’ where the Bury team were looking to produce an upset against a very strong Liverpool team. To do the match justice I think it is necessary to go through each set, one at a time.
First up were Dave Griffiths of Bury against Paul Hutchings of Liverpool. Paul played brilliantly to win the first 11-4, Dave responded to take the 2nd 11-8 but Paul again excelled to win the third 11-2. Both players then produced some mesmerising table tennis but Dave held on to take the final 2 games by an 11-8 score line.
Next it was the Bury stalwart and captain Graham Jeffries against the Liverpool number 1, Thomas Haddley. The style of both players resulted in some sensational counter hitting rallies with Graham moving into a 2-0 lead, Thomas responded by winning the next two 11-7 and 11-5 and looked to have recovered the match. However, the final set was incredibly close throughout and Graham eventually prevailed 14-12 to give Bury a 2-0 lead.
The next match was the 2 number 3s in the teams with 16-year-old Zac Cantor, making his senior debut for Bury, against seasoned campaigner Steve Green of Liverpool. Zac showed no signs of any nerves throughout an extremely tense encounter producing some sensational rallies with both payers showing off exceptional blocking and retrieval technique. The first 2 sets were very close and shared 12-10 for Zac and 11-9 for Steve. The next 2 were a bit more clear cut 11-6 (Zac) and 11-7 (Steve) before Zac eventually produced some scintillating stuff to clinch the final set 11-7 and send Bury into an unbeatable 3-0 lead.
At this point all the other first round matches had already concluded but this one was only just halfway through! The question on everybody’s lips was whether Liverpool could produce a fightback to draw the match by winning the remaining 3 sets.
The battle of the 2 number ones pitched Dave Griffith against Thomas Haddley and again the match ebbed and flowed with Thomas taking a 2-0 lead only for Dave to equalise by taking the next 2 sets. Thomas proved too strong in the fifth though and clinched it 11-6 to kick start the comeback.
Nobody seemed to give young Zac Cantor much of a chance against Paul Hutchings but that all changed once he had moved into a 2 sets to 1 lead by clinching the 3rd set 11-3! Paul then went into overdrive in the 4th and 5th sets winning them 11-3, 11-2 to set up a finale with the match score line 3-2.
The comeback looked like being completed after Steve Green went into a 2-1 lead against Graham Jeffries. But Graham fought back to win the final 2 sets 11-8, 11-9, fighting back from being behind in the final set, to clinch the match.
It was a tremendous start to the day with all games requiring a fifth set and was played in a magnificent spirit.
Other first round winners were Oldham who beat Preston 5-1, with maximums from Ian Mclean and Nick Mooney, Chester and Ellesmere Port who beat Warrington 5-1 with Joe Killoran and Aaron Beech both winning their 2 but not before both came through titanic battles with Warrington’s Gary Watson who only succumbed 11-8 in the fifth against Aaron and 12-10 in the fifth against Joe. Trafford were also first round winners by a 4-2 score line against Manchester. Tony Bates winning both his singles
Bury also had a tough 2nd round match against Warrington but eventually managed to prevail by 4 sets to 2. The first 2 matches both went to 5 with Gary Watson just beating Graham Jeffries and Dave Griffiths scraping home 11-9 in the fifth against Olivier Barthelemy. Bury then reeled off the next 3 games before Olivier just managed to beat the impressive Zac Cantor 11-8 in the fifth.
Preston and Manchester fought out a very close draw, with youngster Matt Fields supplying 2 very impressive wins for Preston against John Hope and Naz Ahmed. Chester and Ellesmere Port again produced a 5-1 win, this time against Trafford. Aaron Beech and Joe Killoran were again unbeaten with Tony Bates’ narrow defeat of Wayne Percival providing Trafford’s consolation.
Normal service was resumed as Liverpool beat Oldham 6-0 but not without a couple of scares. Steve Green having to come from 2-1 down against Ian Mclean and 2-0 down against Nick Mooney. Ian also managed to let a 10-5 lead slip in the 4th set against Paul Hutchings.
In the 3rd round of matches Bury had a more comfortable time in beating Trafford 5-1. Trafford were not helped by the unfortunate withdrawal of Phil Biggs through injury. Tony Vaughan supplied Trafford’s only win in a gruelling 5-setter with Zac Cantor after Zac had come from 2-0 down to record a good win against Tony Bates.
Chester and Ellesmere Port collected their 3rd 5-1 win of the day against Preston for whom Matt Fields scored an excellent win against Wayne Percival. Oldham and Manchester fought a very tight draw with 4 of the games going to a deciding set, Nick Mooney rescuing the draw for Oldham with 2 wins. Liverpool again recorded a 6-0 win with Steve Green again requiring a fifth set in scraping home 12-10 against Olivier Barthelemy. Paul Hutchings secured the family bragging rights after beating daughter Amy in the last game.
There were some very tired bodies in the last round of matches and there were 6-0 wins for both Bury and Liverpool over Preston and Manchester respectively. Chester and Ellesmere Port secure -1 win against Oldham, again Aaron Beech and Joe Killoran being unbeaten (they were the only unbeaten players on the day). Oldham’s Gabriel Wilding did push Joe all the way though, only losing in 5 after being 2-1 and 8-6 up in the 4th. Nick Mooney supplied Oldham’s consolation. Finally, the now 2 man Trafford team could not quite rescue a point against Warrington, Gary Watson’s maximum ensuring Warrington went away with the points after Tony Vaughan had a good 5 set win against Olivier Barthelemy and Tony Bates overcame the very promising Amy Hutchings.
It is very tight at both the top and bottom of the league. The top 3 are all very live contenders for the title with Chester and Ellesmere Port leading the table on sets difference from Bury, both teams having a maximum 8 points. Liverpool are next with 6 points and the title will probably be decided when Chester play both Liverpool and Bury on 21st February.
The rest of the teams are in a relegation battle with Oldham having 3 points, Warrington, Trafford and Manchester both having 2 points and Preston just 1 point.