Both teams went into last night’s match protecting two things; 1) 100% records, and 2) an abundance of pride. Something had to give…
The MB Nottingham team and supporters (24 in total) arrived at a busy and atmospheric Duffield to the usual warm welcome from Felix and his team.
Pleasantries out the way, the first matches took to the court with MB Nottingham’s Emily Whitlock taking on Benz-Bavarian Duffield’s World No.2 Laura Massaro on the show and Nottingham’s Ollie Holland tackling Duffield’s Adam Murrills. The girls are coached by the same person, Emily’s dad, and their styles certainly didn’t disguise this. Both know each others game well and it was the more experienced of the two players who was able to use this to their advantage.
Right from the off Laura imposed herself across the centre of the court and found a number of short winners in each and every game. Her trademark two-wall fading boast was causing Emily all sorts of bother and as if that wasn’t enough she decided to throw in some clinging straight drops which on many an occasion couldn’t even be picked off the wall. Emily fought for every point as she always does, but Laura was simply too good and had an answer to all of Emily’s questions. After 29 minutes of play Duffield was a match to the good after a comprehensive 3/0 victory for Laura.
Next door, Holland and Murrills were feeling each other out in the early stages. Both favoured the back of the court, too much in my opinion, but from 6/6 Holland found a series of straight drops and kills to move clear and seal the game. The second was a continuation of the first and, if I’m honest, an absolute masterclass from the 18 year old Nottingham player. The build up play was measured and the finishes were decisive. Murrills found some nice winners of his own but his chances were so few and far apart that they couldn’t amass to anything, and it was Holland who took a two game lead.
Into the third and Murrills began to dig, he had to really. The rallies extended as both players tried not to give each other an inch. Murrils pulled clear from 7/7 to gain three game balls. Holland pushed and got himself back to 10/10. He had a match ball at 12/11 but Murrills, now being spurred on by an ever increasing home support, ground out some hard rallies to take the game 15/13. Interesting times… Or not. Holland came out re-focused in the fourth and after building a quick 5/0 lead pushed on to take the game and match on an easy stroke after 70 minutes of high quality squash.
A fine performance from the youngster. Just what the doctor ordered for Holland ahead of the British Junior National Championships this weekend, in which he is seeded take the spoils.
Over on the show court and a real treat was unfolding for the spectators. Duffield’s Joel Hinds and Nottingham’s Dec James both like to take the ball on the volley. James known better for his touch and Hinds for his drives.
The Duffield man got off to the better start but bit by bit the tall frame of the Nottingham man began to pick off more and more winners. Into a tiebreak and it was James who reaped the rewards of some bold attacking play, and he took the game 13/11 after 23 minutes of hard play. In the second game neither player was able to rack up two consecutive points, such was the equality. At 10/10 it was anyone’s but a fine forehand winner from Hinds and a justified no let decision game him the game 12/10.
The third was quick. Hinds got off to a quick start and the shortest game of the match (7 minutes) went his way without much resistance. This form continued early on in the fourth and at 4/1 to Hinds it looked like an uphill battle for James that he would not be able to climb. Wrong. James found his way again, mostly through some improved length hitting, and after levelling at 8/8 he surged clear to steal the game 11/8. So, into a decider and it was anyone’s.
Both played some neat and tidy squash to take the score to 4/4, then, from nowhere, a flurry of delightful and unanswered winners streamed from the Nottimgham mans racket earn him six match balls. Two were saved, but that was to be it. A trademark straight volley drop gave James the vital point he needed and against the odds MB Nottingham were 2/1 in matches and within sight of the winning line.
So, just a win needed from one of MB Nottingham’s two new Scottish signings to seal a memorable win. On paper it was more than achievable. At first string the rankings were certainly in our favour, and at third string it was probably a toss of the coin. The thirds featured Duffield legend Andy Whipp, on a 9 match winning streak on home soil, against young Scot Greg Lobban who was making his PSL debut.
This match was fast and furious right from the off. Anyone who knows these two players would expect nothing less. Barely four shots into every rally and an attacking angle was being played, and mostly rather effectively. It was Lobban who forged into an early lead, a lead which he would not relinquish despite Whippy drawing to with a point. Game two had Whippys name written all over, or seem it seemed at 8/4, but a miraculous spell from Lobban produced six unanswered points and took him to two game balls. One was given away with an unforced error, and another was saved with a stunning forehand straight volley drop from Whippy. Lobban gained another game ball but couldn’t convert.
A flash in the pan later and the Duffield man was walking off the court relieved to have levelled things up. Speaking of flash in the pans, Lobban served up one of his own right through the third as he blitzed it 11/2 in just 4 minutes! ‘Anything you can do I can do better’ seemed to be Whippys thoughts and in a quick reversal of the previous 4 minutes of play, Lobban could do little to stop an onslaught and it was 11/4 to the Duffield man.
And so into a decider, obviously. Perhaps we should have just flipped that coin 40 minutes ago? Definitely not. This was enthralling squash and I am 100% sure that not one of the spectators could have asked for their money back with a straight face. Whippy took the lead, building an early three point gap. Lobban levelled at the midway stage, 5/5. Whippy edged clear. Lobban kept on his tail. 7/6 became 9/6 after a couple of unusually lengthy and measured rallies.
Lobban pulled two points back courtesy of a straight volley nick from open play and a well built rally which pulled his opponent from corner to corner. Whippy responded with a straight nick of his own, this one off the bounce, to give himself two match balls. A lengthy rally ensued but not your traditional ‘up and down the wall’ kind of one.
This was hard hitting, fast shooting, all guns blazing… And it was the Duffield man who finished it with a winner into the front right corner, much to the annoyance of Lobban. 53 minutes of entertaining and at times breathtaking squash.
And so we were exactly where we were at the start of the night – 100% records, an abundance of pride, all square in matches, nothing yet given. It was time for someone and something to give. It was time for the first strings to strut their stuff. Duffield’s new Egyptian signing Karim Ali Fathi versus MB Nottingham’s second new Scottish signing Alan Clyne.
The match started at a ferocious pace, and to be quite honest it never really let up for the duration of the match. Clyne controlled the majority of the proceedings in the first and never looked back after establishing a sizeable early lead. The second game was identical, although this time the roles were reversed. A block of four and six point runs gave Karim the game and back we were level at 2/2 in matches and 1/1 in the deciding match.
The third was the longest of the games, yet it produced the most comprehensive of scorelines. The rallies were long and evenly contested, but it was Karim who was being the more clinical as Clyne seemed to be a little short of confidence. This was the difference. Very little to choose between the two in terms of speed around the court, speed onto the ball, length and width, it’s just that Karim was devastating when given half a chance. I counted four backhand cross-court flicks from the front left that had Clyne and every single spectator in the house going the wrong way.
Did Clyne have a ‘Plan B’? If so would it allow him to get back into the match? Whatever the answer to the first question was we’ll never know, because Clyne wasn’t really given the chance. Karim maintained his level of intensity and accuracy and despite Clyne being more clinical on the occasions where he was given the chance too, it just wasn’t enough. Karim opened up a little as he pulled away, firing in a couple of big straight nicks, and after 55 minutes of play the Duffield home crowd had a new hero to embrace.
Impressive stuff from the rising Egyptian star. Disappointment from Clyne, but he’ll be back.
So a thoroughly entertaining and dramatic evening of squash played in front a pack crowd. MB Nottingham gave the home support one hell of a scare in what was supposed to be a more routine win for their midlands rivals. Duffield surge clear at the top of the table now. MB Nottingham, despite the defeat, close the gap on second placed Oxford who succumbed to defeat at home to Chapel Allerton.
No rest for any of the teams as it’s straight back into action in one weeks time. MB Nottingham are at home to Pontefract whilst Duffield to are at home, this time to Oxford. Despite at an early stage in the season these two games are massive for the playoff prospects all teams, particularly those in the Midlands
BENZ-BAVARIAN DUFFIELD 3-2 MB NOTTINGHAM