There is always something special about an away game at LSG. Is it the interminable 50 mile round trip from Southport or perhaps the famous drive up to the stadium past Morrisons and the Holiday Inn (who goes on holiday to Leigh?).
No, dear reader, it is the thought that you are entering the place where the Champion of Champions event takes place , that you are treading the same boards as champions such as George Lennon , Pawel Orzechowski , Jack Dempsey , Rhys Davies and … er … Martin Machin.
Yes all these great players ... and Martin have won here. As ex England football international footballer and Rainford TTC superstar Liz Deighan puts it “ Once you've played at Goodison Park anywhere else is like Old Trafford “
So as the Sandgrounders entered the Titans lair the question on everyone's lips was … ”which bar's open ?” , sorry , “would they rise to the occasion or be intimidated by the atmosphere ?”
Walking past Malcolm Rumsey knocking seven shades out of a ping pong ball as he was warming up Josh Taylor turned to Captain Nick and said “Bloody hell these look good“ … ”yes Josh but they are in the division below – we are on the next table !”
Nick Wilson was undaunted ... he wanted to avenge the only defeat on his brief Wigan CV ... a loss to Minh Le. And there was the great man knocking up with team captain Ian Wolstennholme.
Ian was obviously taking this game seriously having changed out of the jeans he wore in the first encounter into a pristine pair of trackie bottoms. Ian had also decided to get to the game early to avoid being docked 12 points under rule 3.
Galeforce was there quaffing a much deserved pint or 3 but where was Wayne Nolan? Eventually Wayne nonchalantly walked in. “I don't need a knock“ said Wayne “I've played a couple of times since my eye surgery and I've now got my eye in!” The Southport trio struggled to get rid of that mental image as the game commenced.
First up – yep you've guessed it – Minh v Nick Wilson. The Sandgrounder's No.1 was in scintillating form as he blitzed Minh with loop and kill to pocket a nice 3-0 win and get the visitors off to a great start.
Josh carried this on also beating Wayne 3-0 despite the fact that Wayne could now see the ball properly for the first time this season.
Then the two captains faced off in one of the games of the night. Nick beat Ian 2-11 in the 1st with Ian having no answer to Nick's 3rd and 5th ball attack. Ian exerted more control to take the 2nd but Nick regained the initiative to win the 3rd and take a 5-0 lead in the 4th game. Surely the Sandgrounders skipper would finish it off and take an impressive scalp. Incredibly Nick, sweating like Prince Andrew in a nightclub, stopped doing what he had been doing so well and Ian clawed his way back to win the final two games and complete an excellent comeback.
The Sandgrounders regained the momentum to take a 14-4 lead at half time with Nick Wilson continuing his superb form taking out Wayne 3-0 and Captain Nick getting back to winning ways beating Minh 3-1.
The halftime orange and pep talk seemed to invigorate the home team as they staged a great fight back. Wayne and Minh beat Josh and Nick W 3-1 and Ian beat Josh 3-0.
Captain Nick restored some order adopting a more defensive approach to beat Wayne 3-0. And then we were treated to the final two matches of the evening. The entertainment was sensational and the crowd were on their feet – it was a shame that Galeforce had gone home though.
Nick W took on Captain Ian – the two best players from either side – and what a game. In their first encounter in September Nick won 3-2. Surely that wouldn't happen again. When Ian took the 4th game 11-1 to level the match it looked highly likely that he would avenge his earlier defeat at Nick's hands. However they make them mentally tough in Southport and Nick displayed fantastic maturity, game management and no little skill to take the 5th 8-11, the match and a thoroughly well deserved POM award.
On to the final match Josh v Minh. Another five setter and another great game. From being 2-1 down Josh levelled to take it into a 5th set. By now both players who had been a bit below par on the evening were playing some great stuff trading backhand and forehand counters, it was a case of who could get the big shot in first. At 11-11 Minh got that bit of luck that we all need from time to time with a net and then served out the match to win 13-11.
So it finished 23-15 to the visitors, a super win for Sandgrounders despite the tremendous Titans comeback.
At the end of the match Nigel Farage the new LSG TTC spokesman (appointed after his political redundancy) said “I have a plan to stop these oiks from Southport. Yes, I've been speaking to my American friend and we are going to build a wall around Leigh to stop these lot getting in ... now where's my pint ?”