THOMPSON Insurance A are now just one step away from a league and cup double.
They survived a very strong challenge in the semi-final of the Team Handicap Cup against arch rivals St Chad’s, who were runners-up to Thompson in Division One of the Sunderland and District League.
They now go on to face Second Division outfit St Gabriel’s B, who put their relegation woes to one side to overcome Silksworth IM in a nail-biting tie to progress through to the final.
In the first semi, Thompson Insurance A brought in Darren McVitie in place of Marc Cotton, with Diane Cartmell and Andrew Wilkinson completing the line-up.
St Chad’s lined up with Barry Cuthbertson, Jimmy Scope and young Joshua Weatherby, who was preferred to Keith Weatherby because of his potential superior handicap advantage.
The format of the semi-final was the best of nine sets (first to five) with each set being the best of three games.
Cartmell played Scope in the opening game which promised to be a very close encounter with the latter having very little margin of error if he was to overcome a 13-point handicap against him.
Scope, playing the more measured style, chipped away to close the points margin before narrowly losing out 21-17.
In the second end, Scope played with tremendous patience and tactical flair to stem Cartmell’s attacking forehand drive to edge it 24-22 to take the set into the third and final end.
Just like the first end, Scope clawed back the lead to set up a tense finish which Cartmell narrowly won 21-18 to give Thompson’s the perfect start.
The second set was a more comfortable affair with Thompson’s Wilkinson disposing of Cuthbertson (+9) in straight sets to put his team into a 2-0 lead.
Young starlet Weatherby (+14) was next up, fresh from his Singles Handicap Cup win, against McVitie.
Without doubt this was going to be a very tough ask for the Thompson player to overcome his opponent and so it proved – with Weatherby playing some excellent table tennis against the former England junior to win in straight sets to make the match score 2-1.
In the fourth set, Scope (+6) was unable to keep out Wilkinson’s powerful offensive forehand and backhand drives and was beaten 21-13 and 21-11 to make the match score 3-1.
Weatherby (+3), playing beyond his years, dug deep to come from 1-0 down against Cartmell to take the next two games 21-17 and 21-17 in an excellent set which saw both players play some very entertaining table tennis. That left the match score at 3-2 in Thompson’s favour.
With McVitie beating Cuthbertson (+9) in a very close match, 24-22 and 21-17, Thompson’s opened up a commanding 4-2 lead and required only one more set to progress to the final.
In probably the most entertaining set of the night, Wilkinson (the double closed Champion – Sunderland and Northumberland) needed to overcome a +14 handicap against Weatherby.
Wilkinson approached the game in determined fashion and was quickly in the zone as he chipped away at the handicap to move within close range of his opponent.
However, Weatherby was not holding back and sometimes matched his stronger opponent before narrowly losing the first 21-19.
The second game followed suit with Wilkinson quickly pulling back the handicap before Weatherby had two game points but, despite some brilliant rallies, was unable to close out the game narrowly losing 22-20 and in doing so Thompson won the match 5-2.
In the second semi-final, Silksworth IM were drawn against St Gabriel’s B who, due to their lowly position at the bottom of the Second Division, were awarded handicaps of up to eight to counter their opponents’ superior position.
Silksworth were represented by Howard Brown, Alan Bickle and Bob Sanderson, with the Saints team featuring Geoff Young, Stephen Young and Dave Revell.
Stephen Young (+4) had the upper-hand throughout the set against Brown before eventually narrowly losing out 21-16, 21-19.
Saints stormed back by winning the next three sets.
First, Geoff Young (+6) held his nerve to beat Sanderson 21-19 in the deciding end.
Then, Revell came from 1-0 down and 16-12 behind in the second to win 21-17 and 21-10 to take the set.
Finally, Stephen Young (+5) beat Sanderson 21-16, 21-10 to open up a 3-1 match lead.
Next up was Brown against Revell, with both players starting from scratch.
Brown’s defensive play stemmed Revell’s attacking style and he drew first blood, taking the first end 21-18.
Revell edged the second game 22-20 before narrowly losing out 21-14 in a very entertaining game which Silksworth won to make the match score 3-2 in Saints’ favour.
With Geoff Young (+8) comfortably beating Bickle and Sanderson defeating Revell (+1), Saints were 4-3 up and required one more set from the remaining two to win the match.
The next set couldn’t have been any tighter.
Bickle was required to give his opponent Stephen Young a seven-point lead and, despite a valiant effort, Young was able to hold on and win 21-19, 23-21 to win the set and the match to book the Saints’ place in the final.