After the home defeat to a super-strong Pontefract in the previous round of matches, the University of Warwick/Kenilworth Squash side needed a strong win in the South West, with Pontefract losing to Birmingham University, to offer up the combo that would see them through to the end of season Premier Squash League play-offs.
With both University sides decimated with players either already in, or preparing to go to Oceania for the upcoming Commonwealth Games, and their respective opponents seemingly unscathed fielding very strong sides, neither fixture looked likely to uphold their end of the semi-final bargain as far as the Warwickshire outfit were concerned. Nevertheless, they were determined to finish the season on a high, regardless of the league table conclusion.
SJ Perry was the University of Warwick/Kenilworth Squash’s only player higher ranked than her opponent, and the difference in class was there to be seen with Perry running out an easy 3-0 winner against Kip Quiney.
Could the WarKens now exert some pressure on Bristol’s magnificent top order? They could! Guy Pearson kept his composure coming from two games to one down to win in five sets against veteran Jethro Binns, seeing the Kenilworth and University Coach register his first win at this level. Pearson showed some guts in the final two sets managing to rein in his natural attacking instincts and play measured, controlled squash, and his delight and relief was plain to see after the final winning point.
2-0 up - pressure on Bristol!
From here though, things looked difficult. The WarKens without their talismen Ali Farag, Mark Fuller and Iker Pajares were up against a mighty Egyptian duo which included the smooth and wily Marwan Elshorbagy, on current form the number 2 player in the World. Bristol strong favourites in the top three strings.
Mark Fuller doesn’t do rankings or favourites though. Not when it comes to PSL and expected outcomes anyway. First game to Fuller in no time and Yousef Soliman looking decidedly rattled. The impossible now starting to look more like the improbable.
The next games proved crucial with Soliman now shaken into action, tightening up, chasing down balls and upping the pace. Always behind in the second and third games, Fuller always looked capable of sneaking one of them, but on both occasions he made chastening errors at vital times and the match slipped away from him 3-1.
20 year-old Harry Falconer was up against an opponent ranked over 200 places above him. You wouldn’t have known. Finally falling away in the third set, he lost out to World number 53 Josh Masters in the first two tight games, before tiring a little in the third. He’s shown more than enough in his two appearances to be optimistic for the future.
So down to the marquee match featuring Elshorbagy and Mahesh Mangaonkar for the WarKens. Now a must win, to harbour any play-off hopes for the University of Warwick/Kenilworth. Shot for shot Mangaonkar matched his decorated opponent, but the USP for Elshorbagy is his silky movement into and out of the corners, and his clever-as-a-fox shot selection. He has a deserved reputation for not always being on his game, but it is a marker of respect to the occasion and to his opponent, that tonight he was most definitely on it. Similar to the fourth string, the adopted Warwickshire man fought hard for the first two sets before falling away in the third, Marwan soaking then countering – the smiling assassin.
In some ways disappointment was tempered by a Pontefract win, meaning the 3-2 loss down in the West Country was not pivotal to the play-off positions, with Nottingham and Pontefract going through.
Still upbeat, team manager Steve Townsend said, “It’s been an amazing and extremely encouraging first season for us in the PSL. The players have given their everything and each and every one of them has been a joy to work with. The home matches will live long in the memory, and I’d like to thank everyone who came down to support us. We’re hungry for success and already looking forward to next season and going, at the very least, one better.”