The Saxons team, hindered by 4 late injuries and withdrawals were fielding a team of raw young talent and experienced internationals against a much more settled unit. Headline team selections that caused some surprise before the match saw the Suffolk Saxons hand AJ Bell NBL debuts to three players as they make their league bow. There was added spice and interest with Sarah Walker returning to Birmingham in Saxons colours, and Saxons head coach Anthony Clark naming himself in his first ever starting line-up.
In his pre match commentary Clark had promised commitment and entertainment from the new Saxons outfit, and they did not disappoint as they ran the NBL favourites for 2017 hard in every game. The shortened NBL version of the game is short, fast and furious and many of the games tested the nerves of players and spectators alike. Lions captain Toby Penty spoke pre match about starting well and “keeping the Saxons quiet”. However, it was Clark who silenced the Birmingham crowd with a stunning display of controlled power and finesse, that took the first 2 games of the opening mixed doubles tie. Sarah Walker, partnering Clark grew stronger as the game progressed and took control of the forecourt as the Saxons pair took the match 9-7,9-4,5-9,9-2.
Unfortunately for Saxons that point would be the only match win of the evening, although there were encouraging performances all round from the young players on debut. Sarita Patel was the pick of the bunch teaming up with Sarah Walker, who was impressive all evening, to bring Saxons to the brink of a 2-1 match lead, only to fail on an all or nothing match point in the fifth and final set, when the spoils went to the Lions. While there were positives to take from all the Saxons performances, matchnight 1 belonged to the Lions, who had the experience on the night to clean up both mens and womens singles.
There was however no doubt who had set the match alight – Anthony Clark had made his mark well and truly on the AJBell National Badminton League, and the Saxons fans will want to see more.
Results (Saxons in bold):
Mixed: Clark & Walker beat Penty & Olver, 9-7,9-4,5-9,8-2
Men's Doubles: Ellis & Torjussen lost to Fladberg & Fox, 3-9,3-9,5-9
Women's Doubles: Walker & Patel lost to Olver & Yeung Hiu Tung, 8-9,9-7,7-9,9-7,4-5.
Men's singles: Joel Douse lost to Toby Penty, 7-9,6-9,6-9
Women's singles: Zoe King lost to Fontaine Chapman 3-9, 2-9, 2-9