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At the end of 2015, I take a tongue in cheek poke at the crisis that’s enveloping the Pride of the Midlands. 

The morning’s faint light trickled through the drawn curtains of 18 Winless Street. Restlessly tossing from side to side on his unyielding mattress, a Villan emerged from his broken sleep with no more than a generous headache. Plagued by nightmares of spectacular Alan Hutton own goals, worry had defeated his entitlement to 8 hours’ rest, and beads of perspiration sat upon his forehead like a flat back four organised by Lescott. He jolted upright in readiness for the shrill full-time whistle of his alarm clock; he would be prepared. Sure enough, when the sound pierced the stale air, he flung his arms to his immediate left and battered the alarm clock into submission. He’d been rehearsing this very routine and, decorated with more agility than Guzan, was able to pull off a sensational save from this discord.

The Villan was downbeat, quiet understandably, but refusing to let Randy Lerner control his state of mind, he had decided upon an outing to the seaside, to, well, get away from it all. It would be his ‘Grand Day Out’. He searched through the semi-darkness for his trusty wardrobe, only to recoil in disgust at an outfit that had magically appeared there overnight. An N’Zogbia inspired floral linen shirt and trousers leapt out at him, its garish pattern unmistakeable.

“How bizarre” thought the Villan to himself. “I’ve never seen one of those retailed in Solihull, let alone make its way into my wardrobe.” Despite his initial contempt towards the clothes, the Villan concluded that such a summery little number would be a perfect fit for a day at the beach. He hurriedly threw on the matching garments and collected a bucket and spade; plastic implements that he intended to use for digging himself out of the relegation quagmire. The Villan skipped breakfast, his stomach still sloshing with a number of spirits consumed after his club fell 11 points adrift, and he unadvisedly hopped behind the wheel of his Ford Unfocus.

An hour into his ropey journey, the Villan got stuck behind a desolate double-decker on the narrowest of country lanes. The traffic was backing up, he some 19 cars from the front to reflect Villa’s pitifully negative goal difference. Staring morosely at this unsightly vehicle painfully reminded the Villan of how a bus, not dissimilar to this one, could have been driven through a defence consisting of Richards and Crespo for Stoke’s winner in early October. Such memories were hardly lifting the gloom from the Villan’s shoulders and his headache was showing no sign of relenting. The Unfocus’ radio suddenly roared into life with an announcement of a burst water main just 2 miles northbound of where he was heading. The Villan slowly put his hands to his face in astonishment, a body movement reminiscent of that which he made in the Upper Holte when Ayew shot wide from 3 yards against Swansea. Still, no time to cry over spilt milk. This, after all, was his ‘Grand Day Out’.

“Rats!” cried the Villan some minutes later. It had been a coy manoeuvre that had seemingly backfired on him. He had made the bold decision to complete a 34 point turn in the Unfocus – a skill that Westwood would have appreciated, less so the other irritable and stationary road users. The Villan was successful in turning the vehicle around and heading back towards his own goal, only to tragically get his rear wheels stuck in some of the thickest mud known to man. The tiring tyres whirred with as much energy as Carles Gil’s little legs, but no forward progress was made. He was well and truly stuck!

The Villan started pouring through his phonebook looking for some help with this latest difficulty. ‘Agbonlahor’, ‘Bacuna’, the lesser spotted ‘Llori’: no they’d be no good for this particular predicament. Against his better judgement, the Villan had to call for some roadside support. He reached the voicemail of T. Fox, who eventually returned his call to advise the Villan that a double team of Remi and Remy would soon be on their way. The Villan patiently sat for hours, watching the queue of cars sporting lesser teams disappear gradually into the distance. After further tapping of his watch and more biting of nails, the Villan became resigned to the fact that no rescue act was forthcoming, that there was no getting out of this hole. He would have to walk the long way home.

It was getting close to nightfall now when the weary, walker Villan saw a haven of comfort to his right, a public house in the middle of nowhere. A flag outlining a small but resilient boat in choppy waters, hung from its uppermost window. As he got closer, the Villan was able to decipher the unlit lettering of the pub. It read: ‘The Champion Ship’. Warmed by the thought of a pint or three, he entered briskly and immediately felt at home. ‘The Champion Ship’ was an environment that smelt of mediocrity, was hardly ornately furnished, but could be considered a good and proper “not so local”.

And it’s at this point, that our narrative ends as I’d like to raise a glass to all fellow Villans and wish you a happier and more fruitful New Year! Cheers.


The Weary Villan’s Road to Wembley

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Pessimism pulses through the veins of every ardent Villa fan. To expect anything other than defeat detracts from what it means to wear the claret and blue of the Brummie club; suffering has become part and parcel of a Villan’s existence. Fate has cruelly conspired against us on more occasions than not, typically between 85 and 94 minutes of a football match. We’ve become the masters of losing leads and losing heads as Carlos Sanchez invariably fells an opponent on the edge of the box. I am a keen hygiene freak, but the main reason for keeping my fingernails short is to avoid biting them through stubborn spells of rear-guard action, spells which can span an entire match. Still, here we are on the brink of FA Cup glory, but rest assured the road to potential success has been a long one.

I vividly remember seeing Villa in the flesh for the first time on a crisp, but dry autumnal afternoon in 1998. Nottingham Forest stood between John Gregory’s side and three precious points; it was an experience that would prepare me for the roller-coaster life of a Villa fan thereafter. It took little over half an hour to fall behind; Chris Bart-Williams was credited with the forgettable 32nd minute opener. With the half-time whistle fast approaching, disaster struck again for my six-year old self. Already a goal down, my misery was compounded by Dougie Freedman’s pile-driver that surprised just about everybody in the ground. It was a ripsnorter of a strike from 30 yards and, 16 years on, I haven’t seen many better.

Bart-Williams’ tap-in and the ruthless Freedman arrow threatened to puncture my spirit just 45 minutes into my Villa career. During the interval, I had the opportunity of waving the white flag and beating a hasty retreat into footballing obscurity. It sure would have spared me subsequent years of heartache. Somewhat unfortunately, I opted to sit tight and watch the second period unfold. Julian Joachim reduced arrears before the hour mark and followed this up five minutes later with an identically scruffy goal, the ball ricocheting off a hapless defender to allow the forward to apologetically poke home. Forest huffed and puffed for the remainder of the game without further success meaning that when the referee checked his watch and blew for full-time, I punched the air in celebration. ASTON VILLA HAD DRAWN. It was an almighty achievement! (Forest would eventually finish bottom of the 1998/99 table with a whopping minus 34 goal difference, but what was a young lad to understand of these statistics?)

A solitary point was all it had taken to form a life-long affiliation with Aston Villa, or Aston Nil-Niller as I affectionately rename the club during barren spells in front of goal. Whilst friends would tear around the streets in Gerrard 8 and Rooney 10 shirts, I’d outsprint them all in the unmistakable Agbonlahor 11 jersey. Pundits would pour praise over the classy Thierry Henry and the quick-thinking Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for minutes on end, when all I wanted was a 10 second mention of Juan Pablo Angel’s close range header against Leicester. Incidentally, I’m still waiting …

Over the last fifteen seasons, Villa fans (I use the plural because, contrary to popular opinion, there are some of us out there) have seen the Joey Gudjonsson, the bad and the ugly. For every Freddie Bouma, there’s been a Jlloyd Samuel, for every James Milner, a Yacouba Sylla. For every stunning 2-1 comeback at Norwich, there’s been an order restoring 8-0 drubbing to Chelsea. For every 16th placed finish, there’s never been cup silverware … Although Villa is the fifth most decorated club in history, their last trophy, discounting the Intertoto cup, was secured back in the 1995-96 campaign, a league cup triumph over Leeds United. You have to turn the clock back another thirty-eight years to discover Villa’s last FA Cup success, whilst six of the club’s seven league honours pre-date the First World War. Astonishing.

Tomorrow’s clash against Arsenal represents a chance to set the record straight, for Benteke to batter Koscielny in the air and for Gabby to uncharacteristically keep his cool before Ospina. Of course, the Gunners are electric on the break; the agile Alexis Sanchez and the blisteringly pacey Walcott will destroy Vlaar and Baker should the Villa defenders get pulled out of position. Ashley Westwood will have to keep his wits about him in order to deprive the unpredictable Mesut Ozil of time and space, and if Bacuna and N’Zogbia occupy Villa’s full-back positions as they did against Burnley last time out, it could be a cricket score. However, believe in the magic of the cup and hope springs eternal!

Scenario A:

“What a rocket from Aaron Ramsey! 3-0 Arsenal”

Scenario B:


Supporting AVFC was never going to be a walk in the park and rarely one down Wembley Way. Only this week has somebody assured me that my soul shall ascend straight to heaven for backing the “zombie-club” through thick and thin. I sincerely doubt that He above will use this same rationale, but I sure hope that tomorrow’s final judgment works in my favour.

Technological Terrors of Modern Cricket: The Woefully Average Score Predictor (WASP)

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Cricket’s a fine art. It’s a sport where strategy, skill and some rather suspect rules all interact to create a game of unparalleled intrigue. Consequently, it becomes trickier to predict the match result than its football and rugby competitors. One poorly called lbw decision, given that the ball was flying over the top of middle stump by centimetres, can see a batting side slump quickly from the seeming comfort of 100-2, to the dispiriting position of 120-5.

However, mathematicians continue to research formulas that they profess will bring a greater understanding to cricket. Whether Duckworth Lewis is the fair predictor of a par score is still hotly debated, but despite the doubters, has proved of more assistance to the game than the latest statistic ever will.

These damning words are obviously referring to the newest fad, that is, the WASP. The model has been devised by a group of professors at The University of Canterbury, New Zealand. They can be applauded for their market research; you have to admit that the word WASP is snappy and hence memorable. That said I would like to propose that its methodologies are as irritating much as its loathsome insect namesakes.

In short, WASP’S purpose is to indicate how likely each team is to win the game. This will understandably change over the course of either side’s innings according to the match situation at the time. So let’s say that England were 64-4 in reply to a whopping 333 set by India – dare I say it, an all too frequent occurrence – WASP would suggest that the English barely stand a chance of turning the probable defeat on its head. While I would also safely predict a win for MS Dhoni’s side, I’ve noted a flaw in the model, and what’s more, I can explain the weakness.

The WASP relies upon a SKY commentator’s expert opinion when it comes to setting the par score. The pundit will suggest what constitutes an average total based upon how the pitch is expected to play in combination with previous first innings totals on the ground. It only begins to reflect badly on the WASP when we realise that the statistical model considers that the two sides going head to head are of equal ability. Let’s return for a moment to our example of England playing an ODI against India, where Michael Atherton feels that 270 is a par score batting first. England win the toss and elect to bat. After their allocation of 50 overs, they’ve amassed 285-7. The WASP would say that England are ahead of the game at this point, having eclipsed Athers’ prediction by 15 runs. My question to you, dear reader, is quite simply: are they?

Since the turn of the century, cricket’s been in a state of evolution. Back in the early 21st century, line and length was the order of the day in both Test matches and the One Day format. If a bowler continued to hit a consistent area, they would certainly get their reward. The inception of T20 has radically changed that ideology: bowl a good length at your peril, and opt instead for the slow ball bouncer to stem the flow of runs. In essence cricket is a batsman’s game now more than ever before. Extraordinary run chases have become common place to the point that the magical target of 300 runs no longer guarantees victory in a 50 over match. On more occasions than not, India will pass England’s 285 at a canter with extra-reinforced bats and huge back-swings, despite the par score suggesting otherwise.

And this is WASP’s sting in the tail. It assumes that a batsman’s mentality has remained stable, that forward defensives are preferred to aggressive hacks over mid-wicket. It is completely ignorant to the idea that a team batting second could have a number of lower order “finishers”; players who can literally club their side to victory. Since teams are being forced to pursue more runs than ever, the WASP is always disparaging toward the team batting second, skeptical as to whether they can successfully complete the chase. It has no answer to the idea that when the team batting first notch 60-1 after 10, they are only registering the equivalent of what in recent years was 40-1. Run totals are relative to the period of time in which they are scored.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes my assessment of the Woefully Average Score Predictor (WASP).

Amended in light of information received from Dr Seamus Hogan, WASP supervisor (27/08/2014)




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IRISH INTERNATIONAL, Niall O’Brien starred as Leicestershire secured a surprise win in their Royal London One Day Cup match against Hampshire.
The rain affected match saw the Foxes successfully chase down a revised victory target of 186 runs inside 25 overs against their hosts.
In an enthralling climax to the game, Niall O’Brien secured a majestic 105* to haul his side over the line by six wickets.
The visiting faithful had cause for concern when Hampshire and England opener Michael Carberry teed-off in the first innings. Renowned for his hard-hitting style, the eye-catching left hander raced to 61 runs from just 50 balls.
A flurry of wickets for Redfern and Naik halted Hampshire’s charge, but a cool-headed contribution of 63 from Sean Terry ensured that the majority of the Ageas Bowl crowd were contented by their side’s 275-9.
Rain then made its presence felt and Duckworth Lewis was brought into action to generate a run target.
Given the way Leicestershire started their reply, the visitors must have been unhappy that the downpour cleared through, as they lost Angus Robson, brother of England’s Sam, for just 15 runs.
However, a promising 95 run second wicket partnership propelled Leicestershire towards the 186 required for victory.
Greg Smith’s explosive 34 was outclassed by the mainstay of the innings’ performance, O’Brien ultimately registering an unbeaten century from just 72 balls.
James Tomlinson began to claw the game back for Hampshire with a couple of timely wickets to stall Leicestershire’s momentum.
However, some late lusty O’Brien blows altered the picture again to ensure that the visitors achieved an invaluable win with four balls to spare.


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Given the ECB’s fierce determination to persist with the Moores and Cook project, it comes as little surprise to see England’s opening batsman leading his side out at the Ageas Bowl in the third test against India.

The general public have expressed their opinion in no uncertain terms about Cook’s stewardship. Many have called for his head, while the more humane among us have politely asked for the Essex player’s resignation. Irrespective of the sport, the captain is always under scrutiny; the spotlight centres on him, particularly when results begin to turn against his troops. England were heavily shelled down under in a 5-0 whitewash against the Aussies, and artillery fire has continued to batter them ever since. A woeful run of Test match results since the summer of 2013 has seen England slip to 7 defeats, stutter to 3 draws and fail to win any matches against Australia, Sri Lanka and India.

The first of the complaints lodged against Cook’s captaincy is his tendency to take a reactive approach, rather than a proactive one, in the field. It has been largely speculated that were the selectors to hand over the reins to another leader, England’s tactical endeavours would not be compromised in any way. It would be difficult for anybody to describe Cook’s stewardship as “charismatic” or “dynamic”. Quietly standing at first slip while he hides away from the world’s glare behind his dark sunglasses, the skipper seems “pensive” at best. Rarely does his body language seem rousing, more often is the double-teapot hands-on-hips pose adopted as the game slowly but surely moves away from England. If the team have an opportunity to exert serious pressure on the opposition, it seems that this England side instinctively slip into defensive mode. Stuart Broad has recently revealed that he’s concerned about haemorrhaging runs when he storms into bowl, and this worry has been reflected in Cook’s field placings. There is a refusal to pack the slip corden and gully region to create catching opportunities. Instead, the sight of England’s opening bowlers having boundary riders at deep extra-cover leaves spectators tearing their hair out.

Then of course, there is the pressing issue of Cook’s plummeting form with the bat. In the days of old, the left hand opener would churn out runs for fun, helping himself to boundaries galore through mid-wicket, while occasionally smearing a short ball through point. He’s never been the most eye-catching of batsmen, but few have been more effective. He’s moved past Kevin Pietersen to become England’s 4th highest run scorer of all time in this morning’s session, and so has proved that he’s a fine international player. However, the corridor of uncertainty outside of his off-stump has proved his most recent Achilles heel.  Such is the frequency of Cook’s nicking behind, or finding a slip fielder with his favoured outside edge, that people need not watch the game to discover how the captain is going to be dismissed. There was another heart in mouth moment as he found a meaningful edge that presented Ravi Jajeda with a simple chance before noon, but the skip was let off the hook with only 15 runs to his name.  Cook has overcome a past habit of his weight falling towards the off-side to be a prime lbw candidate, but will the pressure of the captaincy distract him from rectifying the most recent problem with his batting?

Enough about Cook though. He is not the only senior player failing to produce the goods though. Ian Bell has endured a torrid time of late, scratching around for runs like a man on hot coals. When he first emerged onto the scene in 2004/5, Bell was targeted by the hostile Brett Lee, who’s fiery back of a length bowling had the Warwickshire player tied up in knots. This made the batsman keen to throw his hands at anything full, making him susceptible to a feather edge. Although Ishant Sharma is significantly slower than the express pace of Lee nine years on, Bell still looks as unconvincing against the aggressive bowlers. When England’s number four is in form, he’s arguably the most majestic player on the circuit. However, expose him to sustained pressure, and despite having accumulated a wealth of experience at the age of 32 now, many would expect Bell to crack. Averaging just 25 since last summer’s Ashes, a series wherein he starred, the aesthetically pleasing batsman is due big runs.

Should the top order get their act together – a job perhaps boosted by the inclusion of the extravagant but somewhat unpredictable Jos Buttler – the bowlers must back their efforts up. When England were the number one team in Test cricket, there was unwavering confidence in James Anderson and Stuart Broad ripping through their rivals. Despite having collected 600 wickets between them in the longer format of the game, they’re currently not working well in tandem. I have already alluded to Broad’s reluctance to pitch the ball up, and swing King Jimmy is suffering from a similar ailment. The first innings of the previous Test match at Lord’s epitomises the problem. Having won the toss and elected to bowl first, England were aided by a green surface and cloudy skies. The morning session was if not disastrous, quite simply not good enough. Taking three wickets in two hours was a poor return given the day’s conditions, with Anderson and Broad’s line and length far too erratic.

The problems are paramount for English cricket during this stage of transition from experience to youth. As Cook raises his bat to celebrate his fifty at Southampton, there may just be faintest trace of a senior star beginning to take some responsibility. Now to step on the gas …


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Darren Bent returned from exile to play a pivotal role in Aston Villa’s second half comeback against League Two side Mansfield Town.

The last occasion that the two teams had met was over forty years ago when a 1-1 draw was played out. A similar outcome looked increasingly likely as time ticked away last night, before late strikes from Gary Gardner (85) and Bent (90) sealed a 3-1 win for the West Midlands outfit.

Let's shake on it: The customary pre-match niceties.
Let’s shake on it: The customary pre-match niceties.

Thursday evening marked the second pre-season fitness test for the Stags who fielded several unnamed trialists, keen to impress and earn contract offers before the beginning of the new season. With the Premier League campaign always kicking-off after the football league season starts, it was Villa’s first run-out. Still, the visitors brought a full-strength side and ensured that all of their star performers got 45 minutes action under their belts.

It was the Villans who had the first meaningful chance of the game after 9 minutes. Leandro Bacuna was thwarted when he tried to round the goalkeeper, but the ball broke kindly to Joe Bennett whose weak shot was convincingly cleared off the line by Martin Riley.

Mansfield were not content to sit back and endure Villa pressure though. Ollie Palmer was in the thick of it for the Stags and showed great upper body strength to hold off Ciaran Clark and produce a goalbound effort from a tight angle.

If Palmer’s effort didn’t send Shay Given scrambling in the visitors goal, a finely struck Sam Clucas free-kick in the 34th minute certainly did. The left-footed midfielder curled the set-piece from distance, and the veteran Irishman just about pushed the ball to safety.

Bacuna continued to enjoy plenty of success down Villa’s right hand flank and after a neat one-two with Gabby Agbonlahor, fired straight at the miserly Mansfield keeper.

Despite Villa’s increased attacking threat, Jores Okore, returning from a serious knee injury, and Clark were unable to effectively deal with the physicality of Mansfield’s forward line. The breakthrough came in the 41st minute when John Dempster met Liam Marsden’s long throw, and Alex Fisher’s glancing header found the bottom left hand corner of the net. A pleasant round of applause met the goal. Rest assured, had this been a competitive game, there would have been frenzied scenes from the North Notts faithful.

Paul Lambert, now with Roy Keane his right man in command, completely changed his starting eleven at the break. He handed appearances to players that infamously made up last year’s “bomb squad”; that is footballers who allegedly fell out of favour owing to personal differences with the manager.

Among those were Charles N’Zogbia, Alan Hutton and Darren Bent, all of whom combined to level proceedings just after the hour mark. A simple pass from N’Zogbia picked out Hutton who seared past his opposite full-back to put the ball on a plate for Bent. The former England forward gratefully accepted the invitation to tap home from all of 0.5 yards and cue chants of “Na na na na na na na na na, Darren, Darren Bent, Darren Bent, Darren, Darren Bent” for the first time in months.

Hutton is back in the plans, and back on the ball.
Hutton is back in the plans, and back on the ball.

Just prior to the Villa equaliser, the Stags had an opportunity to extend their lead, but Jed Steer was out quickly to instinctively palm the ball away from Sam Clucas. Sadly the collision saw Clucas depart in some discomfort, and he was later seen leaving the ground on crutches.

The visitors clearly weren’t in a sympathetic mood as their performance improved tremendously during the second period. Andreas Weimann caught the eye with intelligent movement off the ball, and when he cut a ball back to Bent in the 78th minute, the striker was denied by an incredible diving stop from the Mansfield trialist.

There was little he could do about Gary Gardner’s finish with the outside of his right foot in the final five minutes though. A fluent passing move involving Gardner, Bent and Weimann came full circle as the injury-hit central midfielder found the bottom corner.

Villa weren’t finished there either. With practically the final kick of the game, the visitors’ Austrian wing-forward, Weimann, impressively got to the byline, and his dinked cross picked out Bent to perfection who duly headed home.

All rights for the above video go to Mansfield Town FC.


It was the stuff that dreams are made of, watching my local boyhood town stride out alongside my dearly beloved Premiership outfit on a beautiful July evening. Nearly 3500 pottered down to Field Mill/The One Call Stadium to relish the event. There was even a Birmingham contingent in excess of 1000 as yellow and royal blue kits brushed shoulders with supporters attired in claret and sky blue shirts. The blend of these colours in the supreme sunset was a joy to behold, and even the stewards in their fluorescent jackets added to what would have made a vibrant watercolour painting. The turnstiles were alive, and the executive suites did thrive with guests who gorged themselves on gourmet dishes.

Okay, okay. Maybe I have embellished the scene a little. There was less fine wining and dining than I have alluded to. There was an inevitably the odd unpleasant exchange between supporters too, but this game, a pre-season friendly notwithstanding, was a match that I had eagerly awaited during my 21 years on planet earth. With that in mind, dear reader, you can perhaps forgive me for forming an idealistic picture, one that is comparable to sipping cooling cocktails on Brazilian beaches; after all, we have all just enjoyed stunning World Cup coverage!

The game itself didn’t have any great Samba flair to it, despite the best efforts of Karim El Ahmadi’s backheel in the build-up to Villa’s third killer goal. Although it lacked this lively rhythmical dance, the match still proved a decent spectacle for spectators who could savour the net bulging on four separate occasions. Dressed in my faded out yellow Slazenger t-shirt in support of the Stags, I’d have appreciated a draw, but after a sluggish sixty minutes, Villa’s superiority slowly manifested itself. Still, I can’t have too many complaints having witnessed this personally sentimental fixture.


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Matt Wright ran riot with figures of 7-42 as Mansfield Hosiery Mills recorded their first victory of the season at Kimberley Institute. The right arm seamer came back to haunt his former employers by ripping through their upper order before polishing off the tail, as the Millers hoped to stay in touching distance of the sides above them.

The day threatened to be another one to forget for Hosiery Mills, who having been invited to bat first by their hosts, struggled to score freely. Gareth Curtis was dismissed for his second successive single figures score much to the delight of George Bacon who had his man played on.

The early breakthrough brought captain, Tom New, to the crease. The classy left-hander had accumulated 477 season runs prior to the game, and topped the batting averages at an impressive 79.5. He was only able to take his run tally to 499 though as an intriguing lbw decision off the bowling of Alex King left the batsman looking to the heavens. However, the gods weren’t prepared to smile on the Millers for large parts of the fifty overs. Just as Mark Smallwood was beginning to show some good touch, he was snaffled by King for 18 as Ben Savage claimed a wicket in a tight spell of bowling.

Sticky wicket: Tom New struggles to find gaps in the field

When you’re down at the bottom, your luck tends to be out. Rob Townsend would have felt hard done to when Jon Terry performed a wonderful pick up and throw, the direct hit leaving the batsman fractionally short of his ground.  Toby Rodgers came and went for just 10, and with only four overs left to be bowled, the Millers hadn’t even registered a single bonus batting point.

The innings finally reached a crescendo in the closing overs. The score rocketed from 146-5 to 196-5 as Matt New and Keshara Jayasinghe teed off to the dismay of bowlers Bacon and Rowe. New had to endure plenty of criticism about his slow strike rate throughout his innings, but in the context of the game, his gritty 78* proved to be of great significance. At the other end, Jayasinghe was seeing the red Duke like a beach ball and blasted an unbeaten 40 as Hosiery Mills set the hosts a still modest 197 runs for victory.

Consequently, after the interval, the away side needed to pull a rabbit out of the hat, and fortunately for them Matt Wright was determined to spring a surprise. Over the winter months, the Millers had been at the centre of a disciplinary matter with the fast bowler at the heart of the dispute. With his team docked fifty points prior to a ball being bowled in anger this season, Wright was playing like a man with a point to prove.

His opening ten over spell was devastating as he scattered timber everywhere. First to depart for Kimberley was Dominic Brown for a fourth ball duck; the batsman could only look back to see his off stump uprooted. Last week’s centurion for Kimberley, Tom Rowe, didn’t fare any better than Brown. Unable to live with the ruthless Wright, he also lost his off peg without troubling the scorers. Brown and Rowe were in good company though, because Sam Johnson was soon on his way back to the pavilion for the home side’s third duck of the innings, again bowled by the man of the moment.

At 6-3, the hosts required a couple of cool heads to guide them out of hot water. Veteran Terry and Kimberley’s wilful wicket-keeper Sam Ogrizovic looked just the men for the job. They appeared to have nullified the early threat, before disaster struck again. With the score on 40, an effort ball from Wright unlocked Terry’s defences. The bowler was clearly discontented with only knocking one stump over with his previous dismissals, so decided to fire off and leg out of the ground on this occasion. The five wicket haul was complete when Dominic Wheatley was given lbw for 3, despite popular opinion being that he had inside edged the ball onto his pad.

Wright on the money: Wheatley fends off the fast bowler

At 5 down, the responsibility rested on the shoulders of Ogrizovic. However, when he inexplicably picked out Tom New at mid-off for 26, Kimberley’s prospects of securing a positive result were looking increasingly bleak. When James Taylor was the next casualty on the stroke of drinks, the situation became a whole lot more complicated as the home side feared a humbling at the hands of their rivals.

George Bacon and Alex King ensured that Kimberley avoided embarrassment with a cultured partnership of regular singles and clean hitting. Having safely negotiated 18 overs without further setback, captain King momentarily lost the plot to present Gareth Curtis with a catching opportunity on the boundary rope. He duly held on to give Matt New his second scalp of the innings, and meant that Millers had a further 8 overs to prise out the precious final two wickets.

The stage was set for Wright, but when he returned to the attack, Bacon initially got the better of him, as he was bludgeoned down the ground twice in one over. The seamer was unperturbed though, and a timely yorker saw the back of Bacon for a well-played 42.

The end was nigh for Kimberley and even when Wright strayed from his immaculate line and length, the visitors were now getting the rub of the green. As he fired down a leg side wide, Rodgers was sharper behind the wicket than Ben Savage was. With the batsman’s foot aloft, the keeper whipped off the bails in a flash to give Hosiery Mills a vital 63 run victory.

Wins at the bottom of the league table for Radcliffe-upon-Trent and the Notts Academy meant that Hosiery Mills failed to close the gap as they seek to avoid the drop, but these results have Kimberley looking over their shoulder in 8th spot.