In a week where the famous football scoreline “East Fife 4, Forfar 5” really did come about (albeit on penalties), the scoreboards at Elvaston read in a very similar manner after the early ends of our Nines match against Heaton Victoria.
Unfortunately that was about as good as it got all night! Heaton Vic had turned up with only eight players, and as the missing person had been due to play in the pairs, they withdrew one from the fours, who then played a man short. This turned out to be the worst thing that could happen to us, as the new lead in the pairs played a blinder. The early parity (4-4) was ruined on the seventh end, as Heaton scored (or were gifted) a seven. From then on the soundtrack on the green wasn’t great, with a thumping bass provided by Darren’s wayward drives hitting the ditch surrounds, accompanied by triangle sounds as he occasionally hit the rink markers full on. Meanwhile, the score didn’t make for easy listening, with several large numbers being called out, but not in our favour, and the final score was 7-26. Mamma Mia!
Steve Benson’s rink, playing in three-four time, at least jazzed things up a bit, although here the match turned out to be closer than had seemed likely early on. Heaton came back from 0-6 (five ends) to level at 7-7 after ten, and thereafter we were glad of the penalty deduction of a quarter of their score. At least we were never behind, and the atmosphere was quite calm: the final score was 15-12 in our favour, adjusted down to 15-9.
If there had been a soundtrack for the triples it would have been a compilation of Help and A Hard Day’s Night. We piled shots in early on, with three on each of the first two ends, but this was of course totally wasted as those ends are limited to one shot. After reaching a 4-1 lead everything seemed to go wrong: not only did Davie Thomson (Heaton) show why he was once the EBA National Singles champion, but the front end couldn’t quite get close enough to give Steve Bennett anything to work with. It was almost all singles for the visitors (nine of their 11 ends) , and although we came back from 5-13 to 11-13 with one end to go, Heaton played the finale better and finished with a three-shot win.
Over recent years our reports have regularly noted that Heaton Victoria are the club most like our own in terms of general standard. Even so, we would have expected to win this home game, and the result was a real disappointment. But as long as it was only a dress rehearsal for the West Tyne match against Haltwhistle we could still hope that it would be all right on the night – five points were needed to make sure of the league title, since we could pretty well assume that Hexham House A would get maximum points at Alston.
In the event that assumption was correct, so our target was a very real one. With a couple of late call-offs – one a few minutes before the match was due to start – we had to re-shuffle a little, but still had a competitive team. That was just as well, as Haltwhistle brought a strong squad even though it was the last match and they were out of the running.
The first few ends were played in clear but sultry conditions, but the sky was already starting to darken from the south and the sound of thunder became ominous, then continuous. The rain that was scheduled to arrive after nine o’clock came before eight, and everyone fled the green to cover up. At this point most rinks had played about ten ends, not enough to constitute a full match, and to call the game off at that point, when we were leading on three rinks and tied on the fourth, would have hurt. Fortunately the rain didn’t last long and there was time not only to get past the twelve-end milestone for the match to count, but even to complete the match, even if the last rink to finish was peering into an extremely gloomy distance.
Oh, and the score? One of our rinks finished five shots down, and another won by three; both these were well contested throughout, with never more than three shots in it on either rink until the very last end for our losing team. But those close encounters were made redundant by the other two rinks. Our two Steve B’s combined really well against a strong Haltwhistle pairing to win 21-9; and another two B’s (no, no, I didn’t mean that: it was Blanche and Brian) combined really well together on Darren’s rink so that the game was largely done and dusted with five ends to go: this one finished 20-10. These were excellent wins, with good game management and a steady accumulation of shots. Overall, on the four rinks, we were 23 shots ahead after 10 ends and also 23 shots ahead after fifteen.
It therefore became pretty clear after the rain break that we were going to win the match and the league, and the last few ends were a bit like that strange ceremonial stage of the Tour de France, when everyone knows who the winner is but the formalities still have to be completed.
The final winning margin was 65-45. Only on one occasion this year had Haltwhistle scored fewer than 45 – and it was when we won 80-43 in the away fixture in June! That detail is linked to another telling statistic for the season: although we scored marginally fewer shots than Hexham House A and Haltwhistle we conceded by far the fewest shots in the league. On five of the ten nights we held the opposition to fewer than 50 shots, with another exactly on 50; Haltwhistle did it just twice; while Hexham House A failed to do it at all, although they did manage the precise 50 in three consecutive weeks!
Portland called off the men’s friendly due for Friday, thus extending our dismal run of cancelled friendly fixtures, but there was at least confirmation that the match at Wooler on Sunday would go ahead. Beyond that we have a free week in the West Tyne next week but there is a clutch of rearranged Nines games to add to the scheduled one at Gosforth, plus the final Collins and Shipley game of the season, so next week will be busy.