Hillsborough A vs Nomads A, 16th October 2017

Hillsborough A 3½ – 4½ Nomads A
Sue Maroroa 1/2 – 1/2 Jon Nelson
Paul Fletcher 1/2 – 1/2 Chris Shephard
Carl Walker 0 – 1 Andrew Hards
Khaled Muflehi 0 – 1 Geoff Frost
Bryan Wood 1 – 0 Wilson Banda
John Mercy 1/2 – 1/2 Ian Barwick
Gerry Fletcher 0 – 1 Stuart Crosthwaite
Mike Grimsley 1 – 0 Nick Mahoney

Match day two… Jon was back… and so was Sue for the hosts which wasn’t unexpected, but of course made our task just that extra bit trickier. Our opponents have had a name change over the summer but they still bat very deep and on paper this looked like a very closely matched contest. Over the board it would prove to be even closer. Last time around, our lower order had bailed us out but this time we would need the top boards to step up. Given that the corresponding fixture last season had seen us lose heavily (blowing up our title chances in the process) the stage was set for an almighty tussle and a chance at some form of revenge. The first result was positive – Geoff’s four pawn attack looked like some heavy duty theory for virtually every move and when Khaled didn’t find the right response, one queen sacrifice later it was mate in two over the board and a healthy start for us. Jon and Sue then took a relatively early draw in a queenless middlegame after what looked like a pretty cautious opening; 50% over the remaining boards would suffice but that was no means certain. Chris seemed slightly better, perhaps, whilst I was trying to demonstrate that Carl’s pawn sacrifice was not sound by grimly holding onto the extra pawn. Wilson seemed to be having the worst of it against Bryan, positionally not as strong and a pawn down. Ian was also a pawn down – possibly sacrificed as he was looking to build an attack on John’s queenside. Stuart was two pawns up in a French defence for seemingly nothing so I felt reasonably confident there, but Nick was also a pawn down and Mike’s pieces all seemed to be pointing in the right direction.

So it wasn’t a big shock when Wilson was next to finish – he dropped a piece in the endgame and that was more than enough to see Bryan smoothly convert. Back to level pegging and still down materially at least in a couple of the games – a tense situation but one that for once, I didn’t seem to be struggling too much with. Carl offered a second pawn sac as he tried to find a way through to my king, but that was also snaffled and followed up by my c- and d- pawns advancing up the board and sealing the win (although naturally I missed the best, last move in favour of something more pragmatic). Back in the lead…I thought. But at some point either just prior or just after my game had concluded, Nick’s position had caved in. To paraphrase his words afterwards, ‘Mike kept playing threatening moves’. It certainly looked that way from what I saw as both sides of the board came under concerted pressure for a large proportion of the middlegame. So were were actually level again with 3 left. Chris had got down to a rook and pawns ending a pawn up but the pawns were split and after much to-ing and fro-ing Paul found a way to eliminate all the remaining pawns and leave a dead drawn ending the result. 3-3 and all eyes on boards 6 and 7. Stuart was the exchange up, and then finally a whole rook up as Gerry’s bishop ended up pinned to his king and dropping off the board as both players entered the last 2-3 minutes of their time. Stuart kept a cool head (as I was losing mine thinking he had missed a mate) and eventually forced off a rook pair to leave him with a won position. 4-3 to us, Ian an exchange down after a sac on c6 to try to get at John’s king. With both players approaching the final few seconds of their time, Ian chased John’s king across the board and tied up his rook to defence; with Ian’s king solidly placed behind bishop, knight and pawns there wasn’t going to be a winner in mutual time trouble and when John offered a draw, Ian duly accepted and the match was won. Hooray! This felt much more like a victory earned than one handed to us by good fortune, with some valiant defence on the part of Hillsborough only really collapsing at the last. What is also positive is that we appear to be sharing contributions this season as well with no one on 100% after two games; a good sign as regards team strength and team performance. Now we take a break before the next fixture falls on Halloween…

Two matches, two 4.5 – 3.5 wins. We apparently want to make this season as nerve-wracking as possible for the captain. Thanks team!

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