The penultimate round of PSL league action started with just one team as confirmed semi-finalists, but Group A leaders Duffield were sitting this one out, while Nottingham and Oxford were looking to grab as many points as they could ready for their round ten meeting which, even from several rounds ago, looked like a second-place decider.
Nottingham started the day with a ten-point cushion over their rivals, but faced a tricky away match at Pontefract, who have been enjoting good late-season form. And so it proved again, as the Yorkshire outfit, led by world number one James Willstrop, won 4-1. Nottingham picked up 7 points, thanks to a 3-2 win by Emma Beddoes and 2-3 defeats for Mark Fuller and Lewis Walters – who had a match ball against Lee Beachill.
So Nottingham moved on to 88 points, but meanwhile Oxford were demolishing Birmingham University 5-0, the visitors scoring just 5 points while Oxford helped themselves to the full 20, which saw them leapfrog Nottingham into second place.
Results: OXFORD 5-0 BIRMINGHAM (20-5), PONTEFRACT 4-1 NOTTINGHAM (19-7) Full Results
Standings: Duffield 118, Oxford 91, Nottingham 88, Pontefract 72, Birmingham 53
Remaining Matches: Nottingham v Oxford, Duffield v Pontefract
Prognosis: Duffield are confirmed as group winners, earning themselves a home semi-final, while the gap between Nottingham and Oxford is narrow enough to make it almost cvertain that the winner of their match will progress too – only a 14-12 points win for Nottingham (3-2, 3-2, 3-2, 0-3, 0-3) would deny them.
Meanwhile in Group B there were also three teams still in contention for the semi-finals.
Leaders and champions Surrey played hosts to local rivals St George’s in a repeat of last season’s final, but this time it was St George’s who took the spoils, going 3-0 up thanks to wins from Laura Massaro, Joe Lee and Mark Krajcsak. Surrey’s Simon Roesner and Peter Barker won at the top of the order to make it 3-2, but that couldn’t dampen the St George’s spirits.
“Back from a days training in Winnipeg to see st George’s dominating and Exeter struggling, great results all round!” tweeted St George’s Tom Richards.
Exeter started the night just two points behind St George’s, and travelled to winless Bristol looking to regain second place, but with a weakened team after the last withdrawal of number one Campbell Grayson. The night was Bristol’s though, with Mohamed El Shorbagy taking the deciding tie at top string, beating Tim Vale 3/0 for Bristol’s first win of the season.
“So happy we finally won our first match of the season, it just feels sooooo great,” tweeted the Egyptian.
This was great news for St George’s of course, as they opened up a 10 point gap over Exeter, who face Surrey in the final round while St George’s face the – on paper – easier task of a home tie against Winchester, who suffered a 3-2 home defeat to Chichester in the other group B match.
Results: BRISTOL 3-2 EXETER (14-8), WINCHESTER 2-3 CHICHESTER (7-18), SURREY 2-3 ST GEORGE’S (8-16) Full Results
Standings: Surrey 138, St George’s 129, Exeter 119, Chichester 91, Winchester 87, Bristol 64
Remaining matches: St George’s v Winchester, Chichester v Bristol, Exeter v Surrey
Prognosis: If Exeter can pull off an unlikely 5-0, 20-0 win at home to Surrey they will make the semis, anything else will almost certainly seem them finish third, while Surrey need two points to be mathematically certain of being in the semis. Any sort of win for St George’s will see them through, and a good one might even see them top the group.
The final round takes place on 27th March.