The Junior Boys team from Lillington Free Church, sponsored by Leamington IT solutions provider NS Optimum, once again made the trip up the M1 to Derby to take part in the Junior British League on 21st/22nd January. After the first of the two weekends of competition, Lillington were placed fifth in the six-team Division 2B with relegation facing the side who finished bottom.
Lillington’s first match of the weekend was against table-topping Halton – no tougher start was possible. Number 1, Timmy Cooper found himself 2-0 down against Halton’s number 2, Connor Whitehead but managed to get in front and pull a leg back. Finding his range and moving his opponent about, Cooper also took the following two legs to put Lillington 1-0 up in the match.
Adam Cofler then faced Halton’s top player, Keir Morton, and was blown away in the first leg, before recovering a little in the second and going on to take the fourth 11-9. A lightning start in the fourth by Morton set the tone and he never looked back, cruising through to level the match.
Jack Green stepped in to the court for Lillington and got an early lead against Harry Watson, before Watson started to steadily peg him back, ultimately nicking the leg 11-9. This was followed by an 11-7 and an 11-6 leg, sending Halton 2-1 up in the match.
From there, it was relatively plain sailing for the top side. Cooper looked sharp in taking the first leg against Morton, but could manage no more, and with Green and Cofler losing to Whitehead and Watson respectively, the match ended in a 5-1 defeat.
Green kicked things off in the match against Kingfisher and looked in good form during the first leg against number 1, Reece Chamdal. Chamdal managed to claw himself level at the death and take the first leg 12-10. Green struggled to put Chamdal under pressure in the second leg and although he returned to his first leg form in the third, the game slipped away 3-0.
It was a similar story for Cooper, who wasn’t able to put opponent Jamie Liu under enough pressure and lost in straight sets, but Lewis Singleton, making his first appearance of the weekend, looked sharp against Joshua Gallen. The players shared the first two legs, but it was Gallen who took the following two.
Cooper lost in four close sets against Chamdal, and Green and Lewis in straight sets against Gallen and Liu. A 6-0 reverse for the second match of the weekend.
Market Rasen were the final opponents on Saturday and with them in second place trying to chase down Halton, they were in no mood to hang around. They rattled off the first three games in straight sets, with Dylan Curry beating Cooper, Sam Chesterman beating Cofler and Tom McIntosh beating Singleton.
The Lillington lads kept fighting, though. Cooper (v Chesterman), Singleton (v Curry) and Cofler (v Mcintosh) all went to four, but with all on the wrong end of the results, the team suffered their second whitewash of the day.
After the results on Saturday, Lillington started Sunday knowing they were just too far adrift of fourth place, so the focus was avoiding bottom place and relegation. First to be faced were the fourth placed Irish Boys and Cooper looked in excellent form as he sped to a 3-0 victory over Art McLaughlin.
Dylan Grace, Dylan Byrne and McLaughlin the put their collective feet down and rattled off the next four games. Grace beat Cofler, Byrne beat Green and Grace returned to the table to beat Cooper in four. McLaughlin accounted for Green, but Cofler overcame a both a first leg and heavy fourth leg defeat to display excellent mettle and beat Byrne deuce in the fifth, limiting the defeat to 4-2 overall.
The final match of the weekend and the season was against bottom-placed Ulster. With Ulster yet to score a point and Lillington on two, a minimum of a draw would guarantee the side avoided relegation. Defeat would leave the two teams tied on two points and the final positions would then be decided based on the number of individual legs won and lost over the whole competition.
Defender, James McGrath, edged Ulster into an early lead with a hard fought win over Green, after which Cooper safely negotiated his way past Matthew Cherry to level.
Singleton was looking confident after levelling at 1-1 against Conor Smith, but the third leg passed him by a little too quickly before Smith took a closer fourth to take the win.
Cooper and McGrath shared the first two legs, both 12-10, but McGrath then got on top and trotted through the next two to move Ulster within one point of victory.
Green came to the table needing to beat Smith to keep the draw alive for Lillington and let an early lead go during the middle of the first leg, losing it 11-8. Green regrouped well and used heavy topspin and the slower ball to great effect, growing in confidence with every point as he took the next three legs to leave the match score at 3-2 to Ulster.
Last to play was Singleton, needing to beat Cherry to grasp a draw. Unfortunately for Lillington it wasn’t to be and Cherry put in a fine performance, taking the game 3-0 and earning Ulster a 4-2 win.
With that last match defeat, Lillington and Ulster were tied on points. Although the Lillington lads had undoubtedly found it tough, their ability to extend their opponents to four and five legs in defeat over the two weekends proved decisive and they ended up avoiding relegation by virtue of this.
Halton finished the competition as champions with 19 out of a possible 20 points. Market Rasen were runners-up on 15, with Kingfisher just pipping Irish Boys to third (both 11 points).
With Lillington losing two of their top juniors this year as they moved into the senior ranks, it was always likely to be a hard season. In a strong looking division, inexperience at this level did them no favours, but the younger members of the squad will have learnt plenty. With relegation avoided, thoughts will now turn to improving before next season.
The club would like to extend a huge thank you to their sponsors, NS Optimum, with their kind donation helping to reduce costs to the players involved.
NS Optimum provides complete IT solutions to small nursery and infant schools right through to colleges, including primary, junior, middle, secondary and independent schools. They are responsible for some of the UK’s largest campus wide school networks providing in many cases a complete managed service.
You can find out more about NS Optimum and the services they provide by visiting their website at www.nsoptimum.co.uk
Pictured – Lillington FC JBL squad members (L-R) Jack Green, Timmy Cooper, Adam Cofler and Lewis Singleton.