North West Counties : Week 17

Andy Whipp reports on the latest NWCSL Division One matches, Round 17 on 20th Feb …

About the NWCSL - Andy Whipp

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A brief intro to our North West Counties squash league (nwcsl):

It’s the longest running squash league in the World, currently in its 67th year. There are a phenomenal 3500 active players across 22 leagues, with Divisions 2-5 divided regionally. The First Division plays on a Tuesday evening and boasts many top professionals who play regularly.

We have World renown superstars like Joel Makin, Patrick Rooney, James Willstrop, Adrian Waller, Nick Wall, Tesni Evans (Murphy), Emily Whitlock, Mostafa El Sirty, Charlie Lee, Finnlay Withington, Rui Soares, Jonah Bryant, Emyr Evans, Owain Taylor, Lwamba Chileshe and George Parker, just to name a few!

Warrington have been crowned champions for the last 7 years, but every year the competition gets closer and closer, with Cheetham Hill coming within 2 points last season. Cheetham remain Warrington’s closest rivals this season, and they won the first big, head-to-head battle when the two teams played before Christmas, however Warrington do currently hold an 11-point lead, but the two teams square-up against one-another for the second time in a few weeks.

Week 17 – Northern 2nds give Cheetham Hill a scare

The Northern 2nd Team almost put a big, hungry cat amongst the pigeons last night, as they came within points of beating Cheetham Hill, in what would have been a massive blow to ‘The Hill’. Northern 2 are battling to get out of the relegation zone but produced an inspired performance to push the Cheetham clan all the way. Cheetham were without their regular #1 Finn Withington; he was away showing off his silky skills to the Canadians, upsetting the #1, 2 and 4 seeds along the way to claiming his biggest title to date.

Northern’s Josh Owen, son of the now famous coach Rob, got the home side off to a winning start, beating Northern Ireland’s Stephen Hearst in the tightest of 3-0’s. On the adjacent court Luis North overpowered ladies Welsh #3, Lowri Roberts, to give The Northern a 2-0 lead. How would the title hopefuls react?

Cheetham’s No.5 squeaked through a couple of tie break games to beat Northern head coach Jules Silvera 3-1, while Scottish #3 Alistair Prott, playing only has second match of the season for The Cheetham Chargers, put in a flawless display to beat the ever-dangerous Egyptian, Ali Khawas.

We were left with the #2’s to decide the match – a line-up which on paper looked like it could go either way. Kuwaiti Bader Almaghrebi v Jordan Hardwick. Bader can be fast and lethal, with an ‘all-in’ approach to squash, and Jordan is a lovely player with fine wins already against New Zealand’s Temwa Chileshe and Mason Smales. To spice things up, in November Bader won their duel 3-2 – so this really was a massive match, and for Jordan in particular whose team were relying on him to collect the win and the invaluable 5 bonus points for his team. Jordan set out to annul Bader’s speed by controlling the pace of the rallies,

However, Bader usually finds a way back, which is exactly what he did. At 1-game-all and 10-all, the travelling Cheetham fans must have been getting very sweaty buttocks, but to their relief, Jordan came good and found some crucial volleys to win the third and fourth games, both on a tie break. Cheetham survived and gained 15 league points out of the possible 20.

Northern 2-3 Cheetham Hill (8-15)

Warrington had a more comfortable night as they beat the ever-likable Wigan Warriors 5-0, collecting the full 20 points on offer. Portuguese huckster Rui Soares and Ben, ‘The Grimsby Grenade’ Smith, proved too good at #s 1 and 2. Wigan legend Ryan Atherton, notorious for his backhand flicks that we’ve all been fooled by at one time or another, couldn’t find any joy against the impressive Lewis Doughty. Lewis, a new signing for Warrington this season, is a formidable opponent at #3 and proves his worth every single week as a banker for the champions.

The main talking point before this match was, would Wigan’s Nat Fairhurst maintain his season-long unbeaten run? The lanky Liverpudlian has been awesome since September, winning all 16 of his matches, a phenomenal feat. He was up against Warrington’s Charlie Cowie. A few years ago, Charlie was a solid #2 player for his home club in Chorley, but the work/squash balance can be tough! The two tall fellas exchanged thundering blows and traded games to find themselves at 2-games-all, after Charlie took the fourth game 11-9. A bit of a ‘hack-fest’ but nobody could take their eyes off the match. In the end Charlie had a bit too much attacking prowess and inflicted Nat’s first defeat of the season.

Warrington 5-0 Wigan Squash (20-3)

Newcomers to the league this season, City Of Manchester, are rooted at the bottom of the table, but produced their best night of this campaign by beating mid-table Bowdon. City’s captain and coach, Ray Nevin got his first win of the season two weeks ago and obviously likes the feeling of winning… On paper it seemed he’d be destined to lose against the young and fit Charles Keeble, but Ray’s expressive, eccentric style (to say the least) was something Charles had never encountered before, and the underdog took a 2-1 lead. Charles rallied to restore the equilibrium and denied Ray a second victory. Ray’s ‘against the odds’ performance undoubtedly inspired his teammates though, who all recorded fine wins, to give COM a massive 19 points, to edge themselves closer to Wrexham near the bottom of the table.

City of Manchester 4-1 Bowdon (19-4)

Wrexham lost out to a strong Liverpool side, 4-1. Liverpool are a great team but have struggled since Christmas, mainly due to the absence of their #1 Lwamba, meaning the other regulars have been forced to move up a position. But… The smiley Kiwi was back last night, making all the difference. He played in-form Welsh #3 Owain Taylor. Owain is a true asset for the Welsh Dragons as he plays most matches – team consistency is so often the key in our league.

Lwamba and Owain played out one of the matches of the season. Each game was only separated by a couple of points, with Lwamba prevailing 11-9 in the fifth. Liverpool always attracts a big, passionate home crowd, and they were treated with this display of World-class squash, which was recognised by rapturous applause at the end. Young brothers Lewis and Cory Harding have played every match for Liverpool this season and have shown how valuable they are, and they both won, with Lewis coming through a five-game encounter against another in-form Welshman, Josh Davies.

Liverpool CC 5-0 Wrexham Brymbo (20-4)

The final match of Round 17 was Grove Park v Alderley Edge. Since the new year, Grove has been cementing their third-place position, and last night, they notched up another win in another entertaining night of squash. The Grove crowd are certainly one of the best in the league, and they deserve nothing less.

Both Ky Hibberd and James Pickles love a five-setter! Surely, no other players in the 67-year history of our league have played more 5 game matches than these two?!

So, because they were playing each other, it made total sense to put them on first and try to play the other 4 matches on the other court! Pickles, one of the hardest-hitting and fittest squash players on the planet, against Ky, one of the softest-hitting players in our league – I’m just shocked Sky Sports weren’t here for this one. There was a lot of bending over to catch their breath in this match, by both players, from the very first game! Anyway, I’ll cut to the chase – you know it, it was 3-2! Pickles had too much in the tank as Ky struggled to stand up at the end.

Alderley’s other winner was shot-playing maestro Muhammad Khan, who had too much firepower for Ky’s twin, Morgan. Old timer, master’s squash legend, and league chairman Yawar Abbas had a truly impressive win against Mike Potter to get Grove Park on the scoreboard. His win for the home team was followed by victories from New Zealand’s Temwa and South African Dewald Van Nierkerk.

Temwa was a bit too fit for Tom Bamford, as Tom went for more and more desperation three-wall-boasts as the match went on. The Dewald v Matt Godson match – I’ve never seen so many cross-court drops, and trickle boast in my life. It all played into the hands of the big South African.

Grove Park 3-2 Alderley Edge (17-7)

Latest Division One Table (full tables and results for all divisions)

Week 18 picks

Possible pick of next week is Cheetham Hill hosting The Northern’s First team. Can home-hero Finnlay get revenge on the first half 3-2 defeat to Moustafa El Sirty?

Make sure you tune in next Wednesday, and every week until the 2023/24 season draws to a close.

Andy Whipp