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A step too far for Manchester’s squash team

Manchester headed into the semi-final of the BUCS trophy with high hopes, having edged out Exeter and cruised past Bristol in the previous two rounds. But league winners Birmingham proved too much, ending Manchester’s cup dream with a thorough 5-0 victory. The Northern in Didsbury was the venue for the showdown and a handful of students supporters turned up to watch the action unfold.

A BUCS squash tie is made up of five singles matches, which are themselves decided by the best of five games. The point-a-rally system applies, each player aiming to reach eleven points, though a two point margin is needed to win each game. The teams were familiar with each other, having faced off in the league earlier in the season and this resulted in a demanding physical and mental performance from both sides.

First up on court was Manchester’s Zubin Bativala against Birmingham’s James Ryan. Bativala battled to claim the first game 11-7, but his opponent Ryan rallied to take the second game 11-9. The third game was always going to be decisive in such a tight contest, and it was Ryan who eventually prevailed by 14 points to 12. Ryan secured his victory, and the first point for Birmingham, with an 11-6 win in the final game.

Over on the other court, Alex Lemom represented the home side against Birmingham’s Oli Rawlins. Rawlins took a two-game lead without too much difficulty, twice winning 11-7. But some complacency on his part, combined with an impressive response from Lemom, led to the Manchester man prevailing 11-4 and 11-7 respectively in the next two games. At 2-2, it was all to play for. Rawlins returned to his best to edge the final game 11-8 and notch a second point for Birmingham.

Next up was Morgan Hibberd for Manchester, facing Oliver Mapp. The first game was a tense affair, tied at 4-4, 6-6 and 9-9. Hibberd nicked the next two points, to steal a 1-0 game lead, to the surprise of his opponent. A determined Mapp fought back to win the next two games 11-7 and 11-3, though the hotly-contested game was allowed little chance to flow due to numerous let plays from both players. Birmingham were once again the stronger as the match wore on, Mapp winning a third successive game by 11 points to 6 and sealing victory. 3-0 to Birmingham, and the tie was effectively over.

But there was personal and team pride to play for as Richard Johnson faced off with Birmingham’s Josh Taylor. Taylor was far superior in the first game, defeating a frustrated Johnson by 11 points to 1. Johnson improved as the game progressed but Taylor won 11-5 and 11-7 in the next two sets; a great win and perhaps the most impressive individual performance of the contest.

Last to play was Manchester’s Brendan Basset, whose opponent was Scott Young. Basset won the first game 11-7 in impressive fashion but Young responded to win the second by the same score line. The match was similarly back-and-forth over the next two games, Basset winning 11-3 in the third but Young replied with an 11-7 success. With all other matches finished, the crowd was enthralled as the match was taken to an intriguing fifth game. It was Young who triumphed by 11 points to 5, rounding off a whitewash for Birmingham that will set them in good stead for the final against Nottingham. Manchester can take some pride but also some lessons from the match, as they prepare for the upcoming Christie Cup.

FULL SCORECARD:  

Zubin Bativala (Manchester)
v
James Ryan (Birmingham)

11-7, 9-11, 12-14, 6-11

Alex Lemom (Manchester)
v
Oli Rawlins (Birmingham)

7-11, 7-11, 11-4, 11-7, 8-11

Morgan Hibberd (Manchester)
v
Oliver Mapp (Birmingham)

11-9, 7-11, 3-11, 6-11

Richard Johnson (Manchester)
v
Josh Taylor (Birmingham)

1-11, 5-11, 7-11

Brendan Basset (Manchester)
v
Scott Young (Birmingham)

11-7, 7-11, 11-3, 7-11, 6-11

Tags: birmingham, BUCS, Manchester, semi-final, Sport, squash

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Matthew Barber

Mancunion Sport Editor 2012-13
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