Duffield Clinch Dramatic PSL Final

28 May 06

Benz-Bavarian Duffield clinched the 2006 Premier League (PSL) title in a dramatic final tonight at the National Squash Centre in Manchester. The Derbyshire club led 2/0 before Churchill Edgbaston Priory staged a mighty fight back to draw level - then, to the delight of the vociferous East Midlands supporters, claimed the PSL trophy for the first time since 1998 when team No1 Nick Matthew, the British champion, beat the Birmingham club's Australian star Stewart Boswell in the decider.

"It was a fantastic team effort," said long-time Duffield manager Brian Hargrave at the presentations afterwards. "There were two occasions earlier in the season where we failed to capitalise on match balls which would have won us the ties - and I thought to myself earlier tonight, 'surely we can't do this a third time?'."

Yorkshireman Laurence Delasaux gave Duffield an early lead in the finale of the THB Clowes-sponsored league when he beat Hadrian Stiff in four games. Delasaux, from Hull, was making his PSL final debut - but Stiff, a Bristol-based Devonian from Exeter, knows what it's like to compete in the league climax: The 33-year-old England No18 did so in 1998 - when he led tonight's opponents Duffield to the title for the first time!

Delasaux, at 20, the youngest player in the final, recovered from a game down to triumph 9-6, 5-9, 9-3, 9-6 over his Priory opponent - and was delighted with his relatively error-free performance in his first ever meeting with the experienced Englishman: "All credit to Hadrian, he made me work hard for my victory - but I managed to keep a good length throughout the match and came through OK. Playing for a team always puts that extra pressure on you - which makes you want to go that extra yard."

The star women's match between England team-mates and Commonwealth Games bronze medal-winning women's doubles partners Tania Bailey and Vicky Botwright took more than an hour to resolve on the all-glass showcourt at the NSC. And again Edgbaston took the opening game through Botwright - before the Duffield crowd screamed for joy when Bailey fought back to win 6-9, 9-2, 9-6, 9-1 to open up a 2/0 lead for the Derbyshire club.

Bailey, the 26-year-old world No9 from Stamford in Lincolnshire who became British National champion for the first time in February, was recently elevated to England No1 - though Botwright is ranked five in the world. "I'm thrilled to be called England number one, but I think of Vicky as the country's number one as she's ranked higher than me in the world," said Bailey.

"I knew I had to play well to beat Vicky tonight - I felt comfortable on the court and feel a lot fitter than I have done for a long time. This may be Vicky's 'local' court as she's based here in Manchester, but I always play well on it - it's where I won my national title earlier in the year - and winning that, and doing well in the Commonwealth Games, has given me a real boost."

It was only shortly after Bailey's game ended that Duffield's lead was pared back as Priory's newly-capped England international Peter Barker raced to a straight games victory over Welsh international Gavin Jones. Barker, the only player in the final to boast a 100% turnout for his club this season, failed to put a foot wrong as he wrapped up his 9-2, 9-4, 9-2 win in just 27 minutes.

But Jonathan Kemp then put in a blistering performance which raised Duffield's hopes of an early triumph when he opened up a two-game lead against fellow left-hander Adrian Grant, the third England international in the Edgbaston squad.

Grant, the world No16 from London who is ranked 10 places higher than his Duffield opponent, admitted later that he had to raise his game in the third game - but Kemp pulled back in the fourth to reach match-ball. Grant saved that, and fought on to gain three game balls before finally pushing the match into a fifth game.

To the relief of the Edgbaston section of the crowd, Grant eventually claimed the match 6-9, 9-11, 9-4, 13-11, 9-3 after 77 agonising minutes to leave a mouth-watering decider between the two top strings.

Boswell and Matthew have enjoyed parallel careers, with both playing major parts in their respective countries' international team successes - most recently in the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne - and both in fine form.

But it was Matthew, the world No7 from Sheffield, who had the upper hand throughout the decider - and Boswell, despite leading his club to victory in the league in both 2001 and 2003, who this time capitulated.

"I was really up for it tonight," said the delighted Duffield No1 after his 9-5, 9-7, 9-7 victory in 37 minutes. "I wanted to make sure I got a good early lead, and by the time I'd won the second game, I was confident I was there," said Matthew.

"I felt I'd lost a few crucial matches early in the season, and I said to manager Brian before the match that I wouldn't do it tonight!"

It was an emotional Brian Hargrave who clasped the trophy for the second time since 1998, following the club's third appearance in the final.

"There's been a tremendous team spirit this season and our supporters have been simply fantastic - in fact they've probably contributed towards a good few points tonight," explained Hargrave. "But ultimately it's the players who do it on court - and I'm very proud of them tonight."

Hargrave paid tribute to Benz-Bavarian, sponsors of the team for the past nine years. Felix Friloux, of Benz-Bavarian, echoed his appreciation of the success: "Two wins in nine years? That's really special - it's been really good to have been involved - you just couldn't ask more of the players than they achieved tonight.

"For a small village like Duffield in Derbyshire to produce a team like this is great - it will undoubtedly inspire more kids to get involved, and that's what it's all about," added Friloux.

But Duffield's Jonathan Kemp - interestingly, a member of Edgbaston Priory's title-winning squad five years ago - perhaps summed the evening up best: "It's days like this that you play squash for - the big crowd and the big occasion. There's nothing like it."

Benz-Bavarian Duffield 3 Churchill Edgbaston Priory 2
Nick Matthew bt Stewart Boswell 9-5, 9-7, 9-7 (37m)
Jonathan Kemp lost to Adrian Grant 9-6, 11-9, 4-9, 11-13, 3-9 (77m)
Gavin Jones lost to Peter Barker 2-9, 4-9, 2-9 (27m)
Laurence Delasaux bt Hadrian Stiff 9-6, 5-9, 9-3, 9-6 (42m)
Tania Bailey bt Vicky Botwright 6-9, 9-2, 9-6, 9-1 (66m)