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.

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.

IMG_20180728_101034.jpg

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.

Wins all round

Waterlogged LyndhurstIn this driest of summers we looked forward to a friendly at Lyndhurst on Monday. We left Hexham under grey skies, but as we passed the Metro Centre the heavens opened, and we got to Gateshead just in time for that downpour to catch up with us.  Within minutes the green was flooded, and it took only a few minutes more to call the match off.

It was even stranger to get back to Hexham and find the roads dry, while at Gosforth Blanche Adamson and her playing partner from the Gosforth club also had a fine afternoon, made all the finer by winning the County Over-55 Pairs competition.  Their opponents in the final were Susan and Shelagh from our own club, so we can be proud of our prominence in the ladies’ game.

Through the rest of the week it was back to the normal routine of regular games in men’s, ladies’ and mixed leagues.  The Nines team played at Collingwood (North Shields) on a green that was extremely similar to our own in terms of brown, parched grass and occasional bumps.  We were reduced to eight players just as we about to leave Hexham, following a bizarre mix-up that had nothing to do with bowls, so the fours played as three, facing the loss of a quarter of their score.

This seemed not to trouble them at all, as they were soon 12-0 ahead, and even when you took that penalty into account 9-0 still sounded pretty good.  Collingwood then came back into the game, basically sharing the shots, so that after 16 ends the score was a gross 22-8 in our favour.  That was not the time to lose a count, but in an eerie echo of the Cramlington match back in June, we dropped a five on the penultimate end, to make the score 22-13, or (in net terms) 16.5-13.   It would have been hairy if that half-point had been needed, but in the event we conceded just a single on the last end, for a win that was much narrower than had seemed likely.

The pairs were also ahead throughout, extending an early four-shot lead to seven or eight for much of the game – at the end the scoreboard read exactly the same as the fours, 22-14, but this time we got the full benefit.  Having said that, Collingwood made a spirited recovery at various points, pinning us back to just a couple of shots early in the second half and causing some furrowed brows on the part of Brian and Darren.

The triples really looked to be too strong for the opposition on paper, especially taking into account the fact that the Collingwood second had been playing bowls only for a couple of months.  The trouble was, he hadn’t read the script, and also had a background in archery, so that his ability to see the right line was phenomenal for someone new to the game. Allied to that, the skip was extremely good, and managed to cut down our potential shots on several ends – a quick calculation suggested it was well into double figures.

So it was a game of attrition, just having to be satisfied with single shots, of which there were plenty – from 4-4 after five ends the score plodded to 17-5 after fifteen.   Still Collingwood didn’t give up, and after yet another corking bowl from their skip to turn a two-shot deficit into three for them on the last end, it finished 17-10.  By that time most of the home team had gone home, probably dispirited after yet another defeat.  It was still a good win for ourselves, even if a clean sweep against a team that hasn’t notched up a single point since May won’t gain us too much ground in the league.

The ladies got back to winning ways in the Collins & Shipley league – by coincidence they too were playing the bottom team in the league.  The strong start to the season had tailed off in recent weeks with three defeats, but against Seaton Delaval the engine sparked back into life.  Betty’s rink took a few ends to get the better of the opposition but from about the mid-point pulled away to win just about every end for a 19-7 win.

The other rinks were closer for most of the match, but at least that solid victory on the first rink meant that the bonus points were all but assured.  Blanche’s rink had trailed consistently for the first half of the game, but a four with just two ends to go established a clear lead for the first time, so that from 11-10 with three ends left they took the match  16-11. The third rink were actually lying two shots on the last end for a tied score, but the opposition skip trailed the jack to earn Seaton Delaval one shot on the end and a 17-14 win.  The overall result was therefore two rinks to one in our favour.  With ten points this week and another nine guaranteed next Wednesday because Seaton Sluice have conceded the game, the points tally is suddenly looking a lot healthier.

After those two matches against teams that were bottom of the league we were able to send out a West Tyne team that was top of the league before playing Hexham House B at the Abbey green. The green posed some interesting challenges, with bowls occasionally running against the bias and some doing an elegant little slalom. On one rink a slight depression meant that well-weighted bowls speeded up in the last yard of their journey to travel at least another yard past the jack – a novel twist to the game.

Of course, these conditions applied to both teams, and once we had worked out the vagaries of the runs it was quite straightforward (with the emphasis on straight). Three rinks won quite well, with Darren’s rink progressing consistently from a lead of four (after five ends) to eight (ten ends) and sixteen by the end (a score of 24-8). Keith’s rink also finished well ahead (21-9), after being just 8-6 up at the half-way point. Trevor’s rink looked to be on track for a big win too (15-5 after 14 ends), but then lost five shots on two ends before finishing 18-10 ahead. Meanwhile the two Steves and Blanche played really well, even leading after ten ends, but were unfortunate to come up against skip Mike McDonnell in awesome form: the loss of a late five made the score (11-20) look far worse than the performance had been.

This meant a 6-1 win on league points, which in the light of other results means we are now three points clear at the top of the table with one game to go. Five points against Haltwhistle next week would guarantee the title, and although four might be enough with our current shots advantage that is an unusual points score to achieve as it means winning only one rink while also winning overall on shots. At least, as the football managers say, it’s in our own hands.  And by the end of the week, unlike our experience at Lyndhurst, we could be home and dry.

Into the Final

Thankfully, in a season full of postponements, there was no clash between our West Tyne Cup match and the slightly bigger Cup games in Russia. Our semi-final with Allen Valley duly took place one day after England’s semi against Croatia

In the football, Croatia had fallen behind early, then equalised before getting the winner.  We definitely played in a Croatian style, as early exchanges were not in our favour.  After five ends we were leading on one rink, down on the second and drawing on the third, and after eight ends it was worse, with two rinks each 3-8 down.  A couple of ends later we had restored the earlier balanced position not only in terms of rinks but also on overall shots, which were tied 24-24: it simply couldn’t have been closer.

Quite why things changed as rapidly as they then did is unclear, but for some reason all three rinks pulled ahead, and in the course of the next five ends we won the shots count 26-5, with two rinks so far ahead that the final ends were a bit of a formality.  In the end we won by three rinks to nil, but it had clearly been a struggle early on.  We now meet Hexham House A in the final, to be played on 9 August.

The Nines game due on Tuesday was postponed, adding to a long list of re-arranged fixtures in that league.  By the time we get them all finished the next football season will be well under way.

(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

 

Norman Conquest

Keith Woods had a brilliant Father’s Day – and that was even before any family events!  First, in the morning, he partnered Jean to victory in the County mixed pairs.  In recent years more and more players have entered this competition, with the standard going up too, and here they were playing one of the strongest pairs in the county, who might have been fancied as ultimate winners.  There were some dark comments to the effect that our green wasn’t as good as Gosforth’s – no one would argue with that, for sure, while it’s quite fair to say that our green doesn’t bend as much as Philippe Coutinho’s goal against Switzerland the same day – but the visitors’ general air of gloom was reinforced by some excellent bowls by Jean and Keith, so that the game was conceded early.

With not much in the way of lunch, Keith then played skip again for the Senior Fours against a strong Backworth Welfare team in the quarter-finals of the County competition.  Rink 6 (hut-to-hut) was chosen, as being the most reliable of the rinks at the moment, although our visitors complained increasingly loudly about it.  By coincidence, there had been no complaints early on, when the lead alternated several times to reach a score of 8-7 after 10 ends.  At this point we scored a five and won several other ends, so that the score was suddenly 18-8 in our favour and somehow “home advantage” was making a difference.  Well, no one has ever heard of “away advantage”, have they?

Just when it seemed that we would win easily Backworth suddenly came back into it, lying five until Keith cut it down and then on the next end another five until Keith played an expert promotion shot to reduce the score to one.  We went into the last end 19-12 ahead, and the only tactic open to Backworth was to kill the end and have another go, but despite slicing the jack they failed to put it off the rink and we didn’t bother to count any bowls beyond our token one shot.

Regular readers will recognise that a good number of posts refer to the weather and/or state of the green, and this one is no exception.  After having complaints about our green at the weekend we found ourselves at Ponteland for the Nines on Tuesday, with an immaculate playing surface that – if anything – was too good.  That may sound surprising or even ridiculous, but in truth, when you have been used to a “bit of a push” on our green, to have a green that is much closer to indoor speed is a shock to the system, and it took us a while to adjust.  Making life even more difficult was the weather: rain had been forecast for about nine o’clock, but it arrived right at the start of the match, and although it was best described as very heavy drizzle it made conditions very difficult: the surface became quite greasy, making the bowls slide on through.  The same for both teams, of course, but it’s not so easy chasing the game under those conditions.

You will have gathered that we are softening you up for news of a defeat – a heavy one at that, 0-8.  This was all the more disappointing in that Ponteland have lost several of their best players this year, and also because we were fifth in the table before this game –  a long way off fourth place (53 points) but the “best of the rest”  of half a dozen teams bunched between 36 and 30 points.

The pairs were up against a strong long-term partnership and although they did well to keep the early deficit within reach, with Darren burning the last end in yet another attempt to save the match, they went down 12-17.  The fours also had a slow start, going about seven behind and then finishing exactly seven behind (11-18).  Seven was definitely not a lucky number for us: the triples held their own early on, then, on the seventh end, lost a seven, and despite coming back to level at 15-15, finished seven shots down at 15-22.

The Ponteland game finished with the whole team wet and miserable, but the next day the Ladies were home and dry against Morpeth, running up yet another good win (10-2). Two rinks won and the third lost by only one shot. And on Thursday the West Tyne team, in the absence of several regulars, had an extremely good win at Alston, where the green has improved very notably since the problems of a few years ago. On a bright, sunny evening three of the four rinks performed in almost identical fashion, establishing an early lead and then adding to it slowly but surely, winning by margins of seven (on each of two rinks) and ten. The final rink struggled to get the better of Alston stalwart Norman English: there was scarcely ever more than one shot in it, and – to prove the point – we were lying an apparently unbeatable one shot to win the game when Norman fired up the middle and managed to get the shot for a 15-15 draw. So it was nearly a whitewash, but still a very satisfactory result, leaving us well clear at the top of the table.

Playing skip on that last rink was our Brian Norman. Having seen almost certain victory denied by the Alston Norman (English), he played in the West Tyne triples the next night with Mark and Keith against a Hexham House team skipped by yet another Norman (Brotherton). This was another close affair, which went to an extra end after an outrageous wick by the Hexham House skip – just as all deflections in football are “wicked”, so all wicks against yourself are outrageous. The extra end looked to be (indeed, was) very much in our favour until Geoff Lamb drew the perfect shot to win the end for the visitors. After that result you might say Brian wasn’t very keen on the Normans.

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…

Losing Count(s)

In recent weeks the Ladies have had some extra maths practice, having started several games with eleven players, rather than twelve, thus incurring a penalty of a quarter of the shots scored by the short-handed team. On one occasion, against Gosforth, this was the difference between winning and losing, as the shots total after the penalty was 40.5 to ourselves and 43 to Gosforth, who thus picked up the six bonus points for a shots win and took the match 10-2. The result would of course have been exactly reversed if we had had a full complement.

No maths were required this week, however, as three full rinks took on Seaton Sluice at home and ended with a comfortable win on all three, for a 12-0 win. A definite plus sign! And an extra plus came with the form of several players still quite new to the league. In particular, Liz Benson showed great tactical awareness in realising that several Seaton Sluice players were struggling for weight and deliberately going for long jacks – an astute tactic which also required good control of bowls and jack.

Long jacks can be a problem for anyone on some of the heavier greens at the moment. In the County Senior Fours competition a rink skipped by Keith Woods played a North Shields four including a couple of notable local bowlers.  This, to use a term from a couple of weeks ago, was a road game, requiring an early departure from Hexham in light of heavy traffic in Newcastle.  As it happened, we arrived really early, but at least that gave some time to acclimatise to the damp and chilly conditions after the late afternoon sun at home.  The green was pretty heavy and spongy – a bit of a heave for early June, to be sure – and it was definitely in our interest to keep the jack at a reasonable length.

The match featured an interesting statistic in that for as long as it remained a real contest it averaged just on two shots per end – though fortunately, most of them were scored by Elvaston!  So after two ends it was 4-0, after eight ends it was 14-2, and by the eleventh end the score had reached 20-3.   With a single apiece to follow that the match seemed pretty well over at 21-4, but suddenly North Shields won three ends on the bounce, picking up seven shots, so that after sixteen ends 32 shots had been scored, while the margin was 10 with five ends left.  Two per end!  In the event, we got one shot on the next end, making the target much harder, and two more singles were enough for the match to be conceded.  The final score of 24-11 might almost have stood for the temperature difference as well…

Things were a bit better at Cramlington the next night for the Nines game, although there was still a huge difference from Hexham temperatures – both places were sunny and bright, but there was a bitter wind on the green.  The triples made light of conditions, running away with it, allowing their opponents to score just one shot every four ends and racking up a 29-4 win.  But even as the last end was being played an ominous shout came from the next rink: “Six!”  The fours had enjoyed a good tussle, and had worked really hard to get into a winning position, 14-10 ahead with two ends left, but then lost a six to go into the last end two behind.  They then scored a single, but – contrary to my post of two weeks ago – one shot was not enough.

The pairs had also been close, after falling behind early on, and went from 12-12 to 13-12 with two ends left.  They were then lying shot with the last bowl of the end to come.  The Cramlington lead told the skip to play a forehand runner to shift the jack, but the skip was unimpressed.  Indeed, he announced to himself and the nearest spectators that this was a “stupid shot”.  So what did he do? Why, he turned round and proceeded to play the shot demanded of him, and while he certainly hit the target no one could have foreseen what happened next.  The jack hit Brian’s back wood so hard that it came a few yards back up the green, to where Cramlington had several badly short bowls – and the result was five shots against us.  That made it 13-17, and there was no way the home team were going to let that lead slip.

So a game which, with two ends left, had looked like a very possible 8-0 win turned into a 2-6 defeat, with two rinks losing 11 shots on the penultimate end.  Truly, it’s not over till it’s over.  And as things turned out, the same moral was illustrated at Throckley the very next night, in a rearranged Nines game. Curiously, after the pairs and fours had seen leads evaporate, this time it was the triples who fell short after doing all the hard work on a difficult and uncooperative green.

Leading 16-9 with just four ends to go, we were just one shot down and with several inviting back bowls. It was agreed that Trevor should go for the trail, or possibly take out the shot bowl, but he completely (as in: completely) misjudged the pace and removed our only bowl from the head, gifting five shots to Throckley. Of course, this still meant we were leading by two shots, but the effect on morale for the two teams was massive, and the home team won all the last three ends for an 18-16 win.

Fortunately the other rinks had wins. The fours had clearly learned a lesson at Cramlington, and turned a 14-10 lead near the end (uh, oh!) into a 17-11 win. Meanwhile Steve Bennett and Darren looked as if they had set their sights on a whitewash in the pairs, as they were already 18-0 up after ten ends before losing a three). This was no real interruption, however, and the final score of 27-7 did not really reflect their total dominance.

So over the two nights we had a points tally of 8-8, with a remarkable shots difference of +46. When we win we seem to win big, but now we really have to concentrate on holding winning positions and not giving away counts.

No one was giving anything away in the West Tyne KO Triples tie between Brian, Mark and Keith (for Elvaston) and the Little family of Allendale. The score was 9-9 after 14 ends, before our team won the last four to win 15-9. The general closeness of the game was highlighted by the fact that there was not a single score above two shots at any point. Our other triples team, skipped by Malcolm Cooper, lost to a Hexham House trio led by Norman Brotherton – now the next opponents for Keith’s team.

To complete a busy week the men had a day-long session at Heaton Victoria in the semi-final heats of the Challenge Cup. We have quite a good record in that competition in recent years, and confirmed it this time by winning all four matches, with three other clubs winning two and one club on four defeats. Each club has two rinks, and the result is based on the aggregate scores of the two meetings between each set of clubs. Steve Bennett’s rink won their first matches 13-2 and 14-1, effectively sealing two wins in the first legs; and while the margins in favour of Darren’s rink were smaller they were quite easily defended for a clean sweep. In fact, Steve’s team conceded only eight shots in the 28 ends played, with no more than a single shot against on any end – now that’s how to avoid losing a count!

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.