The addition of Paul Lucas to Rayne A’s ranks and the absence initially of Michael Andrews from Netts’ looked at one time as if it might produce a tight finish in this season’s Braintree Table Tennis League first division.
But once Andrews returned to action after missing five matches, the destination of the title was seldom in doubt.
Even after those five matches, Netts, featuring a reserve in four of them, held a one-point lead over Rayne. Then with wins of 10-0, 9-1 and 9-1, they put their stamp on the title race and slowly opened up a gap that had increased to 18 points by the end of the season, seven points more than last season.
Andrews lost only three times, as did James Hicks, while Paul Davison was beaten four times. Lucas also lost only three times but could not call on such solid backing.
Steve Pennell was Rayne’s other mainstay, ending with an average of 70 per cent despite a surprisingly low-key start when he won only two of his first nine sets. It was Rayne’s sixth successive set of runners-up medals.
The remainder of the division was remarkably tight. There was a 44-point gap between second and third place but only 12 points separated third from eighth.
Black Notley B, promoted last year, crept into third place by taking four points off Netts A in their final match.
Instead it was Notley’s A team who footed the table, albeit only by four points. It was a fate that for much of the season appeared, on paper at least, to be destined for Liberal A, league champions five times from 2016 to 2020, who lost eight of their first nine matches and occupied the bottom slot until the last few matches of the season.
With Brandon Crouchman and Scott Dowsett on their books, it always looked possible that they would avoid the drop and two 9-1 wins in their last four matches eventually pulled them out of the mire.