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Ups and Downs

The Nines squad travelled to league leaders Gosforth this week looking to pick up maybe two points.  You have to be realistic – it’s never a place to expect a win.  The green looked great, as ever, but was surprisingly spongy after the previous day’s downpour.

The pairs had something of a re-run of last week’s collapse, except that it came even earlier.  The first three ends had been well contested, with Gosforth leading 2-1, but on the next end one of Darren’s spectacular efforts went wrong and when the dust had settled it revealed a loss of six shots.  So that was 1-8 against us, and with the knock-on effects on morale over several more ends it was soon 1-13.  In fact, from 3-13 the shots were equally shared, even down to the curious detail of each side scoring a four in the last two ends, and the game ended 13-23.  Perhaps the imposition of a speed limit on bowls might help matters…

The triples also lost a six, although this turning-point was the result of excellent bowls by Gosforth.  The early exchanges had been quite close, and at 5-7 after eight ends we felt comfortable.  On the ninth one of our bowls was lying second shot and apparently locked in between two Gosforth bowls – it seemed as safe as houses.  However, this is where the vast experience and skill of these guys comes in, and after setting up the position the skip found perfect line and length to send the jack through and claim six shots at the back.  Although the great majority of the home team’s scoring shots were singles, with a lot only counting by an inch or so, Gosforth were always ahead and always dictating terms – a score of 10-19 did feel harsh, however.

Just after half-way both the triples and the fours had scoreboards showing 13-7 in Gosforth’s favour.  The fours did considerably better in drawing back, and by the close had managed to win nine of the 18 ends.  In fact they won eight of the first 14, showing real character after losing 3,4 and 2 on successive ends to go 2-9 down after five.  A really strong run saw them come back to 15-15 after 14 ends, and even after Gosforth then scored singles on three ends our rink weren’t finished.  On the last end we were lying three shots for a well-deserved draw until the very last Gosforth bowl took two of them out. There was no way for Malcolm to restore the three shots, and we lost 16-18.   That score looks even more impressive in the light of the overall 39-60 scoreline. And it did at least mean we were no worse than the norm, as Gosforth had averaged a 23-shot advantage in their previous 17 matches.

Friday marked the start of a punishing run of Nines matches to catch up on earlier games that were postponed for various reasons. At least they are all at home. Next week we have games on three consecutive nights, but even that wasn’t as strange as the situation on Friday where High Heaton had asked us to play twice on the same night, playing two games of nine ends. It was on our green, so it saved a journey and we agreed.

We then needed agreement on the rules of engagement in this unique set-up. What about the normal rule of having one shot on the first two (of 18) ends? Would we now have the one-shot rule on the first two ends of the night, or would it be just one end in each of the mini-games? (Answer at end of the post.) Once that had been sorted out we had to remember that we were the home team in the first game, but the away team in the second game, thus changing our position on the scoreboard. Oh, it keeps your brain active, does bowls!

When we finally got going, on a rather soggy green, there was a certain symmetry about the scores. The pairs won both games, albeit thanks to one shot on the last end of the first game to make it 9-8; the fours lost both games (the technical expression “stuffed” featured in the post-match analysis); and the triples won the first game before going down in the return, “away” fixture. So that meant that we won the home match 6-2 and lost the away match 2-6. All that re-organisation just to produce a totally neutral outcome!

The ladies went to Forest Hall for their final league game with hopes of gaining enough points to secure promotion to Division 1. There was plenty of mental arithmetic here, too. Before the match we were 9 points ahead of the only other contenders, Morpeth, with 12 points on offer both both clubs this week. The calculation, therefore, was that four points would be enough.

Forest Hall may have been languishing on the half-landing above the basement teams, but they were clearly determined to have us as opponents next season as well, and certainly not easing off with “nothing to play for”. One of our rinks had a solid 25-14 win, but unfortunately this was exactly matched by a 10-21 defeat for a second rink; and with the game absolutely in the balance it was a surprise and a disappointment for our third rink to lose 13-16. The overall three-shot deficit meant a paltry haul of two points on the day. Just to make it worse, that was the first time this season that Forest Hall had won more than one rink against anyone other than the two clubs below them in the table. In short, it was a surprise result.

But then, on the modern version of Teletext, came the news that Morpeth had also slipped up (was it nerves?), winning only nine points at home to lowly Seaton Sluice. The result of that, of course, was that Morpeth gained only seven points on ourselves, leaving us two points clear in second place. So, assuming that the numbers and format of the league remain the same next year, it will be another promotion. It’s a few years now since we described both the Nines and the Ladies as yo-yo teams, too good for Division 2 but not quite good enough for Division 1. There have been a few “ups and downs” since then to prove the point – let’s hope next season confirms a place in the top tier.

Yo-yo

And the answer on the Nines:  a trick question in a way, as the eventual decision was to have one shot on the first two ends of each match.

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Campiones!

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.

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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.

(Limited) Action

With so many people away on tour or on holiday in the last week of June the club had been very quiet. Things perked up a bit this week, even if a lot of the noise was made up of expressions of amazement at the dryness of the green, and the fast surface that has resulted.  It has been running like a wooden floor, with no carpet, and thanks are due to all those involved in watering whenever it has been possible.

The rinks for Thursday’s West Tyne match had to be chosen to avoid newly watered areas, which left a choice of any four from four.  Our visitors from Allen Valley adapted very well to the unaccustomed surface, and three rinks turned out to be very close.  Brian Elstob’s rink were never more than three shots up or down on all the “way markers” of five, ten and fifteen ends, but sadly were still one behind after the full eighteen.  Steve Benson was in a very similar position, literally within one shot on each of those same marker points, but then falling (three) short at the end.  With two rinks down it was looking bleak in that Darren’s rink had been 1-8 down after five ends, then 5-13 down after ten, and still 13-15 behind after fifteen ends.  So it took some doing for them to get singles on each of the last three ends and came away with a 16-15 win, rather against the odds.

That, of course, still left us behind on overall shots on these rinks, but fortunately our fourth rink had an easy win with all the twos, 22-2, and – bingo! – we ensured a 5-2 points win on the night.  Next week (12 July) we play the same opponents in the Cup, with just three rinks, so we can expect a close match again.

The ladies could have done with a close match in the Collins and Shipley league, but were given a hard time by Ponteland, with a 0-12 scoreline.   Depending on other results this week that may make our second position less assured, but there is still plenty of time for a return to earlier form.   And with several re-arranged matches in the Nines to be played, as well as the usual West Tyne fixtures and the final of the Challenge Cup, the mid-season lull may well be over…

No news today

Readers of a certain age may remember a pop song by Herman’s Hermits (trivia quiz: what was “Herman’s” real name?) entitled No Milk Today.  This typically dotty ditty from the 60s was later parodied as No News Today (“to CNN’s dismay…”), and it was the latter song that came to mind this week, as I received no news of club scores in matches.  With seven of the men away on the Gosforth Tourists’ visit to Lincoln, and another batch of people away on holiday, things must have been rather quiet.  So, in tribute to Peter Noone (for ’twas he):

No news today,  the guys have gone away

They’re on the Gosforth tour, there’s no news that’s for sure.

No news today, the ladies keeping mum

We hope they got to play, but no result has come.

No news today, we cancelled in the Nines,

But Thursday was ok, so how about West Tyne?

No results or score, were our teams down or up?

I’ll try and find out more – but first I’ll watch t’ World Cup

 

Our Cup Runneth Over

After the men’s success last weekend in reaching the final of the Challenge Cup, attention turned to the ladies’ open triples at Amble. The team of Susan, Sylvia and Blanche won all three of their qualifying round games and progressed to the knock-out stage.  An easy win in the quarter-final meant yet another game in a long day which alternated between sunshine and heavy clouds with steady rain.  The semi-final, which took place in such rain, was the tightest match of the whole day on any rink – it was 3-0 to Elvaston after two ends, 3-3 after four, 5-3 after six and then 5-5 after the full eight ends.  To illustrate how close our team were to winning this: on the seventh end Gosforth Empire chose not to bowl their final wood as the situation was so tight, and then on the last end Blanche’s last bowl finished less than an inch from being the shot, which of course would have won the game.

The draw meant an extra end, but sadly at that point tiredness seemed to take over, with sudden-death defeat coming in the loosest end of the day. However, after 40 ends of bowls that was very excusable!

The league game against Forest Hall on Wednesday saw the ladies’ impressive run of results continue. Blanche’s rink were five or six shots ahead throughout, while Betty’s rink also won by a few shots after a match that for the most part was quite close. Our third rink came back well from 1-9 to level the score at 9-9, but eventually lost by a single shot. The result was another 10-2 win for the club, which keeps us in a strong second position in the table – the score neatly maintained the average of just over nine points per game. While we are talking stats, it’s worth pointing out that last week’s result against Seaton Sluice was only the second time this year that any team had scored more than 70 shots in a Division 2 match (both examples were 78, as it happens), and it was also the biggest winning margin this season.

There were two games against Hexham House this week, just two nights apart but in vastly different conditions. The Nines game on Tuesday took place on a balmy evening with birdsong in the background and shirtsleeves on the green; the West Tyne Cup tie on Thursday at the Abbey was played in the aftermath of Storm Hector, with leaves and twigs having to be removed from the green in conditions more like early September than mid-June. .

In the Nines match the fours ran away with the game after losing the first two ends, conceding only three more ends to finish with a score of 25-7.  That match was pretty well in the bag from the halfway point, but the other two were very much closer.  The pairs were 6-9 down just after halfway, but came back slowly to edge in front before a good score on the penultimate end took them to 14-9; from there it was easy enough to pack the head, and not even Clive Knott’s final thunderbolt could disturb things sufficiently to get the big score that Hexham House needed.

The pairs thus won by three shots, just as the triples were going down by the same margin (15-18).  Here Geoff Lamb was the match-winner for the visitors, playing second and keeping his team in contention all the way through.  Whether we were lying two, three, or even five, Geoff consistently cut it down to no more than one; and on the last end, with the score 15-16 and Mark’s bowl some three inches from the jack for a likely draw, he somehow managed to get two bowls between our shot wood and the jack. So that made it 2-1 to us on rinks, and a satisfying 6-2 win on points.

The Cup match against Hexham House B proved to be similar in almost every way except the weather. It was remarkably close for the first half, with two rinks both tied at 8-8 after nine ends (at which point the other rink was 7-6 in our favour after eight). At the ten-end stage we were leading by one, two and three shots respectively, but thereafter Trevor’s rink took complete control, moving from 8-8 to 25-8 in the course of seven ends, and keeping that 17-shot lead to the end.

So that was one rink safe in a match determined on rinks won, with shots counting only in the event of a draw. This detail became important at the end of Keith’s match. Bowling the last wood of the match, at 13-12 and believing that we were one down, Keith very reasonably played his shot on the basis that a draw was good enough for us, since we were by now sure to win the overall match on shots. After his bowl had come to rest, however, it turned out that we had been two down, not one, and the result was therefore a 13-14 defeat which gave the whole match a different complexion, especially as Steve Bennett’s rink had just been hauled back to 12-12 after 17 ends. It truly was all to play for on the last end.

Thankfully at this point John McArdle played his best three bowls of the night to make the jack hard to reach, Sylvia – unusually for the West Tyne, the only female player on the green – put in some back bowls as insurance, and Steve didn’t need to play his last bowl as Keith Sanders failed three times to dislodge our shot bowls. The three shots difference was the biggest margin all night on either that rink or Keith’s, and rounded off an excellent contest, played in a really competitive but very friendly spirit. Next week will seem really strange with no game against Hexham House…

All is not lost

Several years ago we went to Gosforth to play the last Nines match of the season, in a game that would determine whether or not they won the league.  We won the match; they lost out on the league.

The only reason for mentioning that is to cheer us up a bit after another ritual disembowelling by the top club in the area.  They could probably beat most clubs with a second-string team out, but there were enough first-rank names in the squad on Tuesday to make it an uphill struggle all night for ourselves.

The pairs did at least come close, with Steve Bennett and Darren actually in the lead after five, ten and fifteen ends. However, those leads were either two or three shots, and from 11-9 with three ends to go we lost it 13-19, with Gosforth clearly scoring ten shots on two of those ends.   Of course, when you pull off that sort of recovery you think you are brilliant, don’t you, with the victory totally deserved!  But it was hard on our lads, you have to say.

The triples also fought hard all through, even though the deficit was growing slightly worse all the time.  To be 1-5 down after five ends wasn’t silly, and the eventual 6-17 showed there was no major upset, just a steady accumulation of low scores by Gosforth.  The fours were a more distant second all the way through, basically shipping eight shots every five ends and finishing some 20 shots behind.  Our overall total of 24 shots on the night was our lowest for some considerable time, but in view of the calibre of the opposition we just have to take it on the chin and see it as a learning experience – albeit a chastening one!

By coincidence our game in the West Tyne league was also against last year’s champions.  It was an away game at Haltwhistle, with the green like a carpet and getting a lot of admiration from our players.   It obviously did our game good, too, especially Steve Bennett’s rink with a 30-7 win which included a sort of power-play, going from 5-1 after five ends to 17-2 after ten.

The other rinks won by six, five and three shots in games that were close throughout – two of them were level at the half-way point, and the other was 12-11 after fifteen ends – but the important thing was that we won all rinks, and therefore picked up seven points on the night.  With Hexham House B losing, we established a clear lead at the top of the table with half the fixtures now played.

Hat-trick!

The week started well with a win for the Nines team – our first this year.  The pairs had a good tussle in the early stages, 3-3 after five ends and then 7-8 after twelve, but then scoring a 3 and a 6 gave them breathing space and the final result was 21-11.  That left Darren undefeated in the pairs games this year.

The triples were also in a close game early on, 4-4 after six ends and 9-9 after twelve, but they came on well after that to win 16-12.  Some little credit is due to the team selectors, who adjusted the team formations on the night to give just the right balance: those two wins were enough to seal the overall win, but even had one of them lost the fours chalked up a 23-11 win that was actually even easier than the score suggests.

So that was an 8-0 points win, and the ladies improved on it next day (numerically, at least) with a 12-0 win against Ponteland.  We have no details of this win, which was clearly also three rinks to none, other than the fact that one of our teams was a player short – so that particular win must have been big enough to allow for losing a quarter of the score.

The next night (Thursday) we travelled to Allen Valley, who were no doubt buoyed by their win at Haltwhistle the previous week.  Our star-studded line-up is captured on the new cover photo for our Facebook page, and the FB photo montage shows it as being a nice, sunny evening albeit with several fleeces on view.  In the end it was the home team that was fleeced:  after 15 of the 18 ends we were actually 44-46 down, but a really strong performance in the last three ends meant that we won 65-50 overall, with three of the four rinks winning.  The game was obviously much closer than that 6-1 result suggests, but whatever, it meant three league wins out of three in the week. It’s a while since that happened!

With those wins out of the way, a friendly at Gosforth on Friday was, well, just a friendly. Despite having some strong sets of triples our teams might seem to have had one eye on the mouth-watering tea provided by our hosts, and two rinks went down by exactly 20 shots each.   Perhaps we had better just stress that it finished three rinks apiece and that we won the tie=break by securing all three raffle prizes.  Another hat-trick…