What a weekend for the senior county first team as they made it through the Division 1 Play-Offs placing second behind Kent with two excellent 7-4 wins over Dorset and Lanarkshire.
Having been on tenterhooks for a fortnight whilst waiting for Badminton England to rule on the un-played fixtures in Division 1 North, the county first team were delighted to learn that they had indeed made second spot behind Lanarkshire, by a point from Lothian. That meant a trip to Milton Keynes for the Division 1 Play-Offs against Lanark and the top two from Division 1 South, Kent and Dorset.
The last time Northumberland made the Play-Offs in season 2008-09, they played out three 5-5 draws before missing out, being placed third on countback. With the format now best of 11, as in the regular season, at least that fate couldn’t befall them again! Kent would likely be the strongest team having averaged 9-2 per match no less, but with Dorset roughly on a par and our regular season loss to Lanark only having been by 6-5, hopes were high.
The weekend opened against Kent who were weaker than expected, missing Rory Easton, representing England in the Europeans the following week, and top ladies’ singles player Paige Butler. Another England junior was present though in Max Flynn, flown in from Germany the night before, and they were still likely to prove too strong overall.
A good win from Philip Pahatouridis at second string was all there was to show from the men’s singles, James Anderson, for once, unable to convert his customary three-ender! The highlight was 15-year-old Lucy Dodd who battled strongly against a higher graded player in Holly Williams, eventually prevailing 15-21, 22-20, 21-16.
Despite three more 3-setters that was the limit of their success although especial mention should go to James and Ryan Jelley, only just shaded 24-22 in the third. Only two points to show then and a strong performance needed in the afternoon against Dorset to redress the balance.
Garrylee McMullen got us off to a great start defeating the A graded Patrick Adair in straight sets, backed up by Philip with another two-set win. Lucy was again successful, this time defeating the B graded Sophie Males, ranked 26 in England, in two sets to leave us leading 3-2.
Both the men’s and ladies’ doubles were split one each, Garrylee and Philip winning at top string and Lucy and Lauren Young coming from a set down at top string to win 16 in the third. Both our second pairs were competitive taking a set each but were overcome in the third to leave the lead at 5-4 and all on the mixed.
Philip was drafted in for his third game of the match and he and Lauren duly obliged in two sets for the match victory. Points are everything in this format though and Ed Burgess and Rachel Frobisher had meanwhile taken their opening set only to be pegged back at 1-set all. Several clear winners from Ed combined with good net play from Rachel and some excellent retrieving was to see them home 21-12 for a vital extra point and a final score of 7-4 to get us right back in it.
Kent had meanwhile beaten Lanark 7-4 so the scores at the end of the day read Kent 16. Lanark 10, Northumberland 9 and Dorset 9. Thus, we needed a 6-5 win over Lanark to draw level with them but we would go through on that result providing Kent took their expected win against Dorset.
Sunday dawned and we knew we needed a strong start in the singles to stand a chance of victory. Garrylee was up against Scottish number 2 Danny Robson and just lost a tight opening set 21-17. Philip had meanwhile taken his opener to 18 and comfortably ran out a winner in the second to get us on the scoreboard. Garrylee had meanwhile established control in the forecourt and battled back to level at one set all and James had started by taking his opening set 21-19.
An excellent start by Garrylee in the decider, again controlling the forecourt saw him change ends well ahead and he ran out a comfortable winner 21-10. James was meanwhile close to victory but Callum MacMillan was rallying well and was to just edge the second set 24-22. Undeterred, James continued to apply himself in the decider which was just as close with neither player managing to get a run of points to establish a telling lead, but James changed ends 11-9 to the good. The game remained close but James got to 19 first only for MacMillan to once again level. James continued to keep a good length and cover the court well though and he held on for victory 21-19.
Lucy Dodd had meanwhile started against Scottish No 5 Toni Woods who she had lost to in straight sets in the regular season match. Some excellent court coverage backed by her determination to get just one more shuttle back saw her to game point but Woods was to level at 20-all. A cross-court winner got Lucy to 21 before a sliced drop from Woods went just wide with Lucy again covering at full stretch to give her the opener 22-20.
Lucy maintained her level in the second set but this time Woods used her experience to just edge it by the same score as the opener to level at one set all. Could Lucy get over that disappointment? You bet she could, with her deep high serving keeping her opponents slice at bay, she continued to rally strongly to get her nose ahead at the change of ends. More excellent retrieving saw her maintain her lead and she held on well to take the decider 21-17 amidst much excitement on the Northumberland bench!
What a start to the match! 4-0 the lead then, two more needed and surely a chance for a famous victory? Lanark fought back strongly with their top men’s pair featuring Scottish No 6 Jack MacGregor and the experienced Keith Turnbull. who had been unbeaten during the regular season, playing particularly well to defeat Garrylee and Philip. With more players with international tournament experience to call upon in Kirsten Berry and Robert Dunn, the tide was turning and despite us competing well the score was levelled at 4-all.
Next it was the turn of second ladies pair Catherine Thomas and Eleanor Laws to take centre stage and they made a great start taking their opening set 21-6. The second set was much more competitive though and they were just edged out 21-19 to set up a decider.
They continued to attack in their preferred style with Cat trying to dictate the play hitting down from the back court and Elle pressing the net for the winner. The lead changed hands several times before a net winner saw them hand in at 19-all. Cool serving from Eleanor saw them to match point and a smash returned wide and they were home. Cue more celebrations from team and supporters alike!
5-4 then and all on the mixed, one needed for victory and to clinch promotion. Could we repeat the heroics of the previous day against Dorset? Philip and Lauren started well and secured their opening set 21-18, closely followed by Ed and Rachel at 21-16.
Back came the Scots again, Dunn and Berry taking the second set comfortably against Phil and Loz and Ed and Rachel were also pegged back at 1-set all, to set up two crucial deciding sets.
Phil and Loz got it together at the start of the third and it was nip and tuck throughout until Dunn and Berry edged ahead and got to match point at 20-18. A cross court winner from the forecourt by Phil kept us in it at 19-20 and an error at the net and we were level at 20-all. Another tight serve saw a forecourt push wide from the Scots and we were in turn at match point. Another push cut out by Phil for a cross court winner and we were home! Cue even wilder celebrations from one and all.
Ed and Rachel had meanwhile edged ahead in their decider and were leading 16-12. Somehow they managed to maintain their concentration despite all the drama on the court next to them and they held on to take it 21-18 to ‘ice the cake’ on a famous 7-4 win!
Kent had meanwhile defeated Dorset 7-4 to leave the final positions Kent on 23, Northumberland on 16, Lanark 14 and Dorset 13. Promotion to the Championship, the second tier in the SCC behind the Premiership, duly secured and what a challenge that will be against the likes of Notts, Essex, Glasgow & North Strathclyde et al. Follow this link for complete results BADMINTON England – Senior County Championships – Regional Divisions 2021-22 – General (tournamentsoftware.com)