With only two weeks remaining, the top of the table in division two is looking terrifically close. Matfen Senators are currently top, but they also have games in hand over Old England Crocks and Ouston A. The Senators had no scheduled match this week but both Ouston A and Old England Crocks won 8-2. Ouston visited Matfen Tribunes whereby Mike Lyons and Mark Rogers both won their hat-tricks and Neil Rogers chipped in with a single victory. Old England hosted Birtley where Ken Clark took three wins and Player of the Match. Brian Bateman and Colin Robson both won two, Bateman suffering a rare defeat in the division against the equally experienced Bob Dodds. At the other end of the table, Old England Fatts unfortunately lost again as they faced Ouston B. The 9-1 defeat does not mean that all is lost for the Fatts but that relegation is looming increasingly close. The other fixture of the week saw Byker C lose 9-1 at the hands of the Cramlington Trojans, Mike Jones and Paul Fairlamb both winning three matches.

Brandon Anacondas in Division 3 have had a frankly outrageous run at the title, having played fifteen matches without loss, amassing a colossal 134 sets won to only 16 sets lost. This week they beat Cramlington Spartans 10-0 despite the Spartans fielding the experienced Division 2 player Rob Lee. Cramlington Cobras had a more favourable fixture as they won 9-1 at home to Byker D, boosting their chances of promotion. Third place Saints also won at home but Cramlington Corinthians’ Philip Smith and Steve Ralph did well to scrape three wins between them against the experienced line-up of Vince Killen, Ray Joynson and Steven Dawson.

There were three sets of Cramlington inter-club battles this week in Division 4. Cramlington Dynamos gained the biggest triumph as they cruised to a 10-0 victory over the Magpies. Youngsters Jack Cairns, Alfie Davies and Israel Shodeinde won all of their games against Joel Harris, Patrick Easton and Ian Tunstall. Cramlington Dragons’ Sree Kanakala won Player of the Match in their ‘home’ fixture against the Knights as they won 7-3. Mick Sursham and Paul Athey chipped in and Sursham and Kanakala combined to win the doubles against Matthew Mastaglio – who won 2 – plus Taylor Rippington and John Hogg. The final Cramlington fixture was much tighter as the experienced line-up of Richard Williamson, John Murrells and Steve Round drew 5 all, with juniors McKenzie Clark, Adam Hardiman and Tim Bryce. The Stokes brothers travelled away to Brandon Bravehearts for Cramlington Falcons and succeeded in each winning their three games to win the overall match 6-4. The final fixture this week saw Newton C exhibit a comfortable victory over Backspin, Julian Manuel taking three wins and Player of the Match.

As things stand in the Northumbria Table Tennis League’s Premier division, Cramlington Casuals are top with 132 points and a game in hand over second place NESLC Eagles who have amassed 123 sets. For a short period of time the Eagles were top and, controversially, the Casuals then decided to use the January transfer window to sign-on “super sub” veteran David Robson. Robson has only played 6 matches since signing on but has won them all, only losing ends to Riding Mill’s Geoff Salter.

Kevin Wilson showed his quality again this week as he beat St Chads’ Keith Weatherby, Jimmy Scope and David Bissett. Unfortunately the other Cramlington Stingers players couldn’t assist him as they lost 5-4, only Rob Reed able to chip in with a win over Bissett. It was a similar story for Mitford A as Dale Aitkenhead returned from injury to earn a hat-trick against Mount A’s Phil Prady, Anthony Ainley and Rod Roberts. Despite this, plus Wraight adding a solitary victory, the home team lost 6-4. NESLC Eagles and NECA A had easier runs out as the Eagles beat Riding Mill A 8-2 and NECA beat bottom place Byker A 10-0. Jim Stamas took Player of the Match for the Eagles as he was the only player to beat Riding Mill’s Geoff Salter. Richard Wilson and Paul Baines both chipped in with 2 wins each though as the Mill’s Peter Stempczyk and John Williamson were unable to pick up a win.

In Division 1, Rob Lawson had a stormer for Newton B as he beat all three Cramlington Reivers players Alistair Colin, Paul Jamieson and Alex Hinchliffe. The Reivers seemed to be in control throughout the game and eventually won 7-3 overall but Lawson proved to be a real thorn in the home team’s side. Andrew Firth, who has returned to table tennis this calendar year after a break, was once again in action this week for Riding Mill B when they beat Mitford B 7-3. Mitford were only able to turn out 2 players but put up a reasonable performance regardless. Mick Bull beat Shirley Gelder and was unlucky to lose 11-9 in the deciding end to Firth, Bob Atwell beat Maurice Cheek and the pair combined to win the doubles. Division leaders Newton A were too good for Mount C as they won 8-2. Graeme Bell won his three matches to seal the Player of the Match award, teammates Craig Fryer and John Russell both losing one game apiece – to David Bannon and Mohinder Rawat respectively.

Northumberland have entered what could be considered their strongest team in years for this season’s Veterans County Championships. Playing in Division 1A, the league’s top division, Northumberland’s lineup of Andrew Wilkinson, Eddie Smith, David Robson and Christine Burke will face tough opposition. The format sees the team travelling to Draycott near Derby to play seven matches across two weekends, the first of which was 25th February.

In their first match, Northumberland faced a South Yorkshire team comprised of Stephen Horsfield, Andrew Horsfield, Bill Grant and Pat Thorley. The Horsfield brothers and Grant regularly compete in the Sunderland Masters VETTS tournament and are therefore well known by players in the Northumberland team, but this makes them no less stern an opposition. The Northumberland team got off to an outrageous start as Wilkinson won 2, Smith and Robson won 1 each and Smith and Burke combined to win the first doubles, leading to a 6-0 start. The Horsfield brothers, an experienced doubles pairing, combined to get South Yorkshire’s first victory as they beat Robson and Wilkinson. In the clash of the position 1 players, Dave Robson lost a close-fought five-end game against Stephen Horsfield, losing 12-10 in the final set. The match finished 8-2 to Northumberland and the team were off to a good start.

Last season in the Veterans County Championships, a similar Northumberland team – only Wilkinson is new to the lineup – lost to Lancashire. Their team this season promises to be one of the best in the league with top veteran title winner Keith Williams supported by Steve Scowcroft, defender Paul Cicchelli and the highly-rated Denise McEvoy. Wilkinson’s inclusion – his first year as a veteran – seems to have had significant ramifications on the team though as they found themselves cruising to yet another 8-2 win. Paul Cicchelli did well to beat Eddie Smith in 4 ends and Christine Burke was incredibly unlucky to lose a tight game in the deciding end to Denise McEvoy.

In the final game of the first weekend, Northumberland got off to another good start against Yorkshire II. The opposition’s lineup of Richard Smith, Ivan Lewis, Mark Land and Helen Shields are all high calibre players well known in the UK’s veteran scene. Robson opened up the scoring as he beat Yorkshire’s number two Ivan Lewis, followed in quick succession by tight 5 end wins from Smith and Wilkinson against Mark Land and Richard Smith respectively. Another fifth end decider gave Northumberland their first loss as Burke and Smith lost in the doubles and this sparked a comeback for Yorkshire as Ivan Lewis beat Eddie Smith and Helen Shields beat Christine Burke. Smith and Wilkinson combined to give Northumberland the edge once more, then Wilkinson paved the way for victory with a comfortable win over Mark Land. Unfortunately Robson couldn’t capitalise on this as he lost to Richard Smith and then he and Christine Burke just lost out in the final match to give Yorkshire a hard-earned draw.

As things stand, Northumberland are sitting in second place just one point behind Cheshire who they will play on the next weekend when all of the teams meet again.

The doubles pair – Smith and Robson

Adam Webster was once again the standout performer of the evening successfully defending both his Junior and Cadet titles, and retaining the Norman Moore Memorial Cup and the Harry Dignan Cup.

After winning his semi-final against Matthew Mastaglio Adam defeated regular opponent Lee Tinkler with a very assured performance in the final. Lee’s semi-final had been against Daniel McManus. Adam was presented with the Norman Moore Memorial Cup by County President & Referee Aubrey Drapkin.

The Cadet semis pitted Adam Webster against Archie Stokes while Matthew Mastaglio played Alfie Stokes, with the final between Adam and Matthew. Adam’s superior power and shot range saw him win 11-6, 11-6. County Chairman Gareth Pearson presented Adam with the Harry Dignan Cup and both the winner and runner up were sent gifts by Mrs Dorothy Dignan, a tradition she has maintained for many years.

Twins Archie and Alfie Stokes met in the final of the Under 13 event with Alfie winning through 11-7, 11-2 so not quite the close battle we had anticipated. Archie had seen off Oliver Ho in his semi-final, while Archie had the better of his encounter with Ethan Brown.

In what was undoubtedly the match of the evening Oliver Ho came out top against Taylor Rippington in the Under 12 final. After a slow start Oliver lost the first game 3-11, bounced back to take the second 11-8 and finally triumphed 12-10 in the third. A match much enjoyed by the audience of players, parents and helpers. Oliver’s semi-final opponent was Thomas Tsatlidis, while Taylor had played Joseph Connolly.

Although slightly down on entries those who took part all appeared to enjoy the evening which ran very smoothly thanks to the efforts of Referee Aubrey Drapkin and his team of volunteer umpires.

The trophies won on the evening will be awarded at the Northumberland Table Tennis Association Presentation Evening to be held at Goals Newcastle, Gosforth Racecourse on Friday May 12th.

Adam Webster Junior boys winner                 Lee Tinkler  Runner up Junior boys

   

Adam Webster Winner Cadet boys    Matthew Mastaglio Runner up Cadet boys

       

Alfie Stokes Under 13 winner        Archie Stokes Under 13 Runner up

       

Oliver Ho  Under 12 winner                Taylor Rippington Uunder12 Runner up

      

This week saw the top of the table clash in the Premier division between NESLC Eagles  and Cramlington Casuals. Home advantage did not help the Eagles as they were defeated 8-2. The Casuals had recently crowned Northumberland Champion Andrew Wilkinson and Band 1 winner Peter Smallcombe playing alongside team captain Steve Penman. Both Wilkinson and Smallcombe winning all of their games and combining to win the doubles were in supreme form and it was the home sides Jim Stamas and Richard Wilson who won the two against Penman. This now puts the casuals seven points clear at the top of the division with a game in hand. The NE Chinese Association are the only other team in contention and won away 9-1 against an injury weakened Mitford A. This puts the Eagles and the Chinese on equal points having played the same number of games. With only 5 matches remaining the run in should be very tight.

In division one another top of the table clash did not take place as Newton A postponed the match against the Mount B due to illness of players. Only 3 points separate the teams and the rearranged fixture will almost certainly decide who will win this division.

This Friday sees the annual Northumberland County Junior tournament take place at Cramlington with 26 competitors from 7pm onwards. The number 1 seed to take the junior Norman Moore Memorial Cup is rising Cadet Star Adam Webster though second seed Lee Tinkler has to be a threat. Webster is also favourite to win the cadet title. In the under 13 singles brothers Alfie and Archie Stokes could possibly make it a family affair in the final. Only five competitors will fight it out in the under 12 singles. Spectators are more than welcome to attend and entry is free.

Northumberland Closed Championship – Saturday 11 February 2017

Open singles

Andrew Wilkinson retained the Alan Morpeth Memorial Cup this year as once again he won the Northumberland Closed tournament’s Open Singles event. His opponent in the final was second seed Graeme Barella, a rival from Sunderland who plays for Mount A in the Northumberland league. Recent league results between the pairing gave no real indication as to who the favourite might be with both players winning one apiece this season. Barella started strong, taking an early lead, and even had a game point to win the first end. Wilkinson wasn’t playing his finest table tennis to begin with but saving the game point seemed to give him a significant boost and he took the next two points to win the end and take a 1-0 lead. Wilkinson started off in great form in the second end, taking three consecutive points straight off the bat. Barella battled back in the middle part of the set and eventually had a 9-7 lead. The patterns of play were similar throughout the game with both players’ tactical outlooks shining through. Wilkinson wanted to get into backhand rallies, playing the modern punch shot deep into Barella’s orthodox backhand loop. At times this backfired as Barella’s backhand loop proved to have too much spin, making the timing difficult for Wilkinson’s punch but more often than not he found success. Barella tried to open up first at every possibility and bring his forehand loop to bear, playing it from every angle including deep into his own backhand corner. When he made a quality contact he could bet on winning the point but by trying to force his forehand into the rally he made more mistakes than usual and Wilkinson was often found waiting to block weaker attacks straight back down the opposite side of the court for a direct winner or at least to gain control of the rally. At 9-7 down, Wilkinson found a reserve of strength to take 4 points in a row and claim the second set. The third end started horribly for Barella as he found himself 5-1 down and at this point saw the need to call a timeout. He took himself into the corner of the court in an attempt to refocus his thoughts but upon returning to the game, lost the next point and got himself into even deeper trouble. From here it was relatively plain sailing for Wilkinson as he took the end 11-7 to win the match 3-0, giving a belting cry of triumph as he crossed the finish line.

Andrew Wilkinson receives the Alan Morpeth Memorial Cup from Gareth Pearson, Chairman NTTA

His route to the final however nearly didn’t go to plan.  In the semi-final, Wilkinson played against top veteran and number 4 seed Eddie Smith. An age-old rivalry exists between the two players as Smith himself has won a significant number of titles in the county’s Closed tournaments across the years. Smith played some top quality table tennis to level the game up to 2 sets each and found himself 7-3 ahead in the final end. At this point Wilkinson called a timeout to stop the rot and upon returning to the table found himself winning the next point, and the next, until he levelled the points and then again to go one point into the lead at 8-7. Smith got back to level 8-8 but Wilkinson’s brilliant run of confidence and form took him through to win the end 11-8 and take the match to proceed to the final.

In the other semi-final, Graeme Barella beat university teammate and friend Chun Yin Yu by 3 games to 1. Barella took the first end but Chun looked like he was his equal after he comfortably took the second. Barella proved his quality and held his nerve in the third and fourth ends though, winning with Yu taking 9 points and 7 respectively.

Runner up, Graeme Barella and semi finalists Eddie Smith and Chun Yin Yu

         

Ladies singles

The resplendent Philomena Clark Cup was this year taken home by Old England Premier division player Lynne Herrington. The Ladies singles was played as a round robin group of 5 from which Herrington came out top. Lynne won the deciding match -9, 6, 6, 8 and it was division 1 player Kit Robinson from NECA B who took the runner-up position.

Lynne Herrington 

Banded events

One of the day’s most impressive wins went to youngster Peter Smallcombe as he beat Jim Stamas in the Band 1 final. The game was free-flowing and great to watch with both players competing at a really high standard. Smallcombe opened up well but Stamas fought for every point, counter-looping the youngster’s forehands and blocking some would-be winners. Unfortunately the youngster was just too good on the day and Smallcombe took the win 3 ends to 1. Last year’s winner Steve Penman was knocked out by Smallcombe in the semi-final which was another brilliant game, going to 5 ends. Smallcombe found his nerve right at the end of the fifth and did just enough to crush Penman’s title aspirations.

Peter Smallcombe

The Band 2 final between Dave Cutler and Steve Dickinson was a brilliantly close encounter. Dickinson’s long pimples looked like they were the perfect counter to Cutler’s fast, snappy backhand drives but Cutler changed his game plan somewhat by starting to choose the right ball to attack and in doing so came from 2-1 behind to eventually win 13-11 in the fifth and final end.

Dave Cutler

Jamie Lupton who has had an unblemished run in division 3 for Brandon this season proved without question that he should be playing in a higher division when he beat division 1 player Kit Robinson 3-0. The up-and-coming youngster had a number of good games in the tournament including the notable scalp of league Chairman and Premier division player Gareth Pearson.

Jamie Lupton

Lynsey Storey won a hard-fought battle against John Cook in the final of Band 4, coming back from a 2-1 deficit to defeat the experienced player from Backspin who has barely dropped a game in division 4 of the Northumberland league.

Lynsey Storey

In Band 5, newcomer Anna Sowerby overcame another topsy-turvy 5-end match against Jamie Hall. Sowerby lost the first set but won the next two only for Hall to level it up at 2 apiece. In the end, Sowerby’s fast attacking left-handed style was too strong for Hall’s retrieving game.

Anna Sowerby

Veteran singles

This year’s Closed tournament offered Andrew Wilkinson his first turn at competing in the Veteran singles event. Having beaten Dave Cutler in the semi-final, he found himself facing Eddie Smith for the second time that day. Smith beat close friend and former teammate Steve Penman 3-1 in his semi-final but having already lost to Wilkinson in a draining 5-end blinder in the Open singles, Smith just couldn’t get going in the final. Wilkinson took the first two ends but despite Smith clawing an end back, proved to be the stronger of the pairing, finally winning the match 3-1.

Andrew Wilkinson

Other events

Northumberland league division 2 player Jamie Dent gave Anna Sowerby an eight point start in the Handicap singles final. Based on players’ performance in local league, the handicap event enables lower division players to compete equally with more experienced players. In this instance however Jamie Dent showed how well he’s playing at the moment, beating Anna despite her head start.

The other event played on the day was Scratch Doubles where players, again based on their gradings which are a reflection of local league performance, are split into an upper and lower band and then paired together at random. This format always produces some close games and this year’s event was no different. In the final, Lee Eadington (upper) and Paul Lupton (lower) beat Sam Bailey (upper) and Alan Hedley (lower).

Finishing note

A huge number of players and supporters turned up for the tournament despite horrendous weather conditions. Thank you to everyone who played, watched and umpired, special thanks to those who stayed at the end to clear up afterwards and ensure we finished on time. Special mention to the tournament Referee Aubrey Drapkin and Organiser  Nigel Coe.

The annual Northumberland Closed tournament will take place on 11th February 2017 at Cramlington Sporting Club. With nearly 50 entries already confirmed, this year’s tournament promises to seriously entertain. In the Open Singles, last year’s winner Andrew Wilkinson is again the top seed. This year he’ll have to see off a raft of talented opponents as Eddie Smith takes the second seeding followed shortly after by Chun Yin Yu and Graeme Barella. Wilkinson recently lost to Barella in the league but otherwise finds himself in potent form. Last year Smith knocked Chun Yin Yu out of the competition so there is no doubt that the top 4 seeds’ routes through the competition will prove hugely important.

Wilkinson also enters the Veterans category this year for the first time which may prove an obstacle to Eddie Smith who has won it repeatedly for the past 8 years. Smith hasn’t been able to play much in the league for the past few years but his inclusion despite an injury scare ensures the Veterans Singles will be a high quality affair.

In the Ladies Singles, last year’s winner Kit Robinson will be challenged by Premier division and previous winner Lynne Herrington as well as Northumberland County player Lynsey Storey who finds herself in strong form.

In Band 1, Steve Penman who has won 8 such titles since 2002/3 including the past 2 years, will look to defend his title once more. Band 1 will be tricky this year however as he comes up against young superstar and teammate Peter Smallcombe. The pair train together regularly and know each other’s games inside out so the contest will invariably be close, the victor probably determined by the player who can show more steel and grit on the day.

In the Banded events, last year’s winners Rodney Roberts (2), Kit Robinson (3) and Mike Jones (4) are all defending their titles but Band 5 will have a new champion as last year’s winner hasn’t entered this year’s tournament.

Andrew Wilkinson receiving the Alan Morpeth Memorial Cup in February 2016

Andrew Wilkinson, 2016 open winner receives the Alan Morpeth Memorial Cup

Monday night saw a thrilling and fiery Premier division fixture between Cramlington Casuals and Mount A. In the reverse fixture, both Andrew Wilkinson and Peter Smallcombe beat Graeme Barella, but this time it wasn’t to be. Wilkinson and Barella, who have had a rivalry as two of Northumberland’s best players for many years now, put on a top show. Barella showed his intent by taking the first 2 ends but nearly lost his way as Wilkinson found focus to take the next 2. The fifth and final end was a real contest, each point being battled for, until Mount’s star player held his nerve to edge the game out 11-8 and take the match. In doing so, Barella also won Player of the Match having seen off Steve Penman 3-0 and getting a 3-1 revenge on Smallcombe. The Casuals still won the overall match 7-3 however as Mount’s Anthony Ainley and Phil Prady were unable to pick up any wins despite two few five-enders.

Although the Casuals have a game in hand, NESLC Eagles took the lead at the top of the division this week when they beat Cramlington Tigers 9-1. Richard Wilson only dropped 1 end for the away team, earning him the Player of the Match award but Rob Reed deserves a mention too for a stoic victory against Paul Baines, picking up the Tigers’ only win. Elsewhere in the Premier division, St Chads travelled to Old England and beat the Jacks 8-2 whilst NECA A hosted Riding Mill A and beat them 10-0 even without star player Chun Yin Yu.

In Division 1, Robert Renton may have taken part in his last game of table tennis as Mount B travelled to Matfen to play against the Centurions. Renton, a youngster who has been a part of the Northumberland, Sunderland and Bishop Auckland table tennis communities for a number of years, announced his departure from the sport on social media just a couple of days after this game. Mount won 8-2, Rodney Roberts and David Cutler both winning hat-tricks for the away side. Conversely, Mohinder Rawat who has recently come back to the sport after some time out, won his three for Mount C as they beat Newton B 6-4. Newton B played twice this week and proved to be more successful at home to NECA B which they won 6-4. Robert Lawson, Chas Robertson and David Lucas all won 2 matches but NECA’s Steve Robinson was too strong for the three and went on to win his hat-trick and Player of the Match.

Graham Barella

Graeme Barella    

 

John Carr played well for Byker C this week in division 2 as they hosted Matfen Tribunes. Carr took the Player of the Match award in style when he dropped only one end from his three matches and took part in winning the doubles with Jim Robertson. Byker ended up with a 6-4 victory, Keith Hodges taking two wins for the away team. Matfen’s other team, the Senators, were more successful at home as they beat Cramlington Trojans 8-2. Alexander Holliday continued to prove his worth as he his three and Player of the Match, David Swan and Stephen Oxley both chipping in with two wins apiece. Mike Jones did well for the Trojans when he won his team’s only two games but in the end it wasn’t anywhere near enough. A similar picture was painted when Birtley visited Cramlington Swifts as Bob Dodds picked up two good wins for the away team, but that was their lot. Alastair Johnson won his second Player of the Match award for the home team in their 8-2 victory.

Only two matches were played in division 3 and three of the four teams involved belonged to Cramlington TTC. Cramlington Lions were first up and they were unlucky not to get anything from a close-fought match against Cramlington Corinthians. Corinthians won 6-4 which is in no small part thanks to a top performance from Philip Smith who overcame a tough first match against Joe Hastings which went to a deciding fifth end, but then went on to win his other two games more comfortably. Saints were the odd team out as they played at Cramlington against the Spartans, putting on an impressive performance. Steve Dawson won Player of the Match for the away team but Vince Killen won his three games too as Saints won 8-2.

In division 4, Cramlington teams were involved in every match this week. Cramlington Ravens visited Newton and came away with a 8-2 victory, Adam Hardiman picking up 3 wins and Player of the Match. Alfie and Archie Stokes continued to show their capabilities as they, accompanied by Ojas Aggarwal, put up a dominating 10-0 win over Cramlington Magpies. Cramlington Dynamos faced off against Cramlington Knights in a very tight encounter as young Israel Shodeinde picked up Player of the Match for the Dynamos, winning a hat-trick. Matthew Mastaglio and John Hogg did well to win two games each for the Knights but it was the doubles that scraped the draw for them. In the final match, Cramlington Jaguars beat Cramlington Dragons 7-3 with Richard Williamson taking three wins and Player of the Match, Steve Round and John Murrells chipping in with two apiece.