They may have only a slender looking six-point lead, but champions Netts A are very much in the driving seat in the race for this season’s Braintree Table Tennis League title as they enter 2023.

The small lead is largely down to the fact that men’s singles champion Michael Andrews was not available for the first five matches.

The results in the first three matches since his return – 10-0, 9-1, 9-1 – are more of a guide to the strength of the squad.

Neither James Hicks nor Andy Holmes has played as frequently as last season but Paul Davison has played in all but one and it is unlikely that they will let it slip from here.

Rayne A were the team keeping them on their toes, particularly after persuading Paul Lucas to return to the league after a number of seasons’ absence. He has lost only once – to Davison in his first match of the season – in his 18 sets.

Had Lee McHugh, the last-but-one men’s singles champion, been available regularly, it might have been a different picture but he has played only once, and with an injury to Steve Pennell likely to keep him out for some time, Rayne have a steep hill to climb if they are to close that six-point gap.

The surprise package has been Black Notley B. It is rare for promoted sides to do any more than try to steer clear of relegation, but they enter the new year in third place.

Dan Anderson was always expected to do well in the top division – he has won 20 out of 24 – but he has also received excellent backing from Glen Laing and Steve Noble, with averages of 58 and 46 per cent respectively.

The other surprise has been to see Liberal A, champions in five of the last six completed seasons, languishing at the foot of the table.

The absence of both Peter Hayden and Terry Dowsett has hit them hard and they began the season scratching around for points even though Zach Harrington brought off the win of the season by beating Davison.

Brandon Crouchman has now started playing regularly, however, and should enable them to begin to overhaul the teams immediately above them.

Their own B team, eight points above them, are their first target but Notley A, who are only two points ahead from two more matches, look to be the most vulnerable.