Alistair Gorrie reports

A near capacity Nottingham crowd were called upon tonight right from the start of this new campaign as a tough Birmingham University side tried to spoil the opening party.

After the formalities were out the way the fixture commenced with MB’s Emily Whitlock taking on BU’s Deon Saffery on the main court, and Ollie Holland against Chris Truswell. Both the home players started with solid squash, managing to secure 11/7 first games, but the tides turned in the second games as both Saffery and Truswell dug in and begin to ask some serious questions of their opponents. Saffery threw in a couple of winners towards the end of the game, managed to force some errors from her opponents racket, and was now tied at 1-1 thanks to a 13/15 scoreline.

Meanwhile on the other court Truswell was behaving in similar fashion as he too drew some errors from his opponent to tie up the match and leave us level for the night. At this point our newly fitted floors were causing problems for the boys. A few cagey movements and some long clay court style slides later, and the match was moved to a different court. Back on the main court Whitlock was beginning to reassert her game and by now was making the court bigger than it should be with some dying lengths to the back and deft touches to the front.

Saffery made her opponent work, as she always does, but after Whitlock took the third the writing was on the wall. Five minutes later and Whitlock had wrapped up the match. The change of court, and with it tin height from 17” to 19” seemed to working well for Holland. He was treating the now packed capacity at his court (maybe 20 people on the hard back – other glass courts were in use) to some wonderful squash and despite some resistance late on in the fourth from Truswell it was the MB Nottingham player who took the match 3-1 to put the home team in a great position.

Back on the main court and it was the second string encounter of Lewis Walters and Jaymie Haycocks. Only 20 ranking places separate these boys at present, but it was the Birmingham Uni player who has undoubtedly had the better summer having trained and played tournaments in South America. Lewis on the other hand spent the first half of the off-season in rehab.

It was maybe this that made the difference in the end, however that said tonight was the first time I’ve seen Haycocks play in over two years now and he is a MUCH improved player. He is leaner, looks more hungry (that works) and his balance of play tonight was exceptional. Walters was mostly on the back foot and fighting hard to stay in the rallies.

To be fair to him he did just this, and with some moments of class thrown in the scores were always neck and neck. The crunch points however were played better by Haycocks and he closed out a close encounter 3/0 .

Over on the hard back Mark Fuller and Jonny Harford were doing battle. The court was hot and bouncy and so the net result was some fairly attritional rallies, perfect for the MB player. That said, it was the Birmingham player who got off the better start. Having opened up a 3 point gap early on he maintained this right through to take the first 8/11. The second game brought more of the same squash only the front of the court was now being used a lot more.

Fuller has been working on this part of his game a lot lately and it really showed as he magic’d up some beautiful winners. At 9/9, he did just this on two more occasions and we were tied at 1/1. Harford stayed on court between games two and three. Why I’m not sure as he did look to be suffering the more of the two. Whatever his reason, it didn’t work. Fuller picked up where he left off and before long found himself 2/1 up and on the verge of sealing the fixture. It became very apparent early on in the fourth that Harford had used much of game three as a rest.

He came out with purpose, an improved length, and a hunger to take the ball early and in short. He made Fuller work, hard at that, but those who know Fuller know that he doesn’t shy away from this sort of battle. He stuck with Harford, clipping at his heels constantly. It eventually broke the Birmingham man and from 7/7 four straight points were recorded by the MB man and the match and fixture were now secured at 3/1.

So with a combination of joy and relief all eyes were now focused on the number one string match. The Nottingham crowd were eager to see a player they watched grow up at their club but who now resides and trains in both Leeds and Pontefract. He’s been away for a while now but Eddie is still a firm favourite with everyone at the Club.

His opponent Chris Ryder, was looking a lot more grounded and happy to be playing squash than the last time we saw him at the National Club Finals on the very same court. His life has changed since then though. He has been forced onto a gluten free diet but in sticking to it has become much healthier and much more able and motivated to train.

It’s great to hear really. Onto the match then, and well I’m afraid it was a sorry end to the evening. After some early engaging and absorbing rallies Charlton made a funny movement in the back right court and pulled up almost straight away with pain in his back. He asked for and was granted his 3-minute injury break but despite some severe stretching returned to court in no better shape. A few points later and he offered his hand to his opponent.

A sad end to the evening like I say but just one of those things really. Despite Eddie’s injury the MB Nottingham players, supporters, management and sponsor leave tonight a happy bunch. A great start to our campaign and we’re already looking forward to the next fixture. Here’s just hoping that Eddie will be fit…