Opponents: Sheffield Competition: Super 8s Date: Saturday 15th January 2011 Venue: All Saints, Sheffield Result: W 3-2 (20-25, 39-41, 25-23, 26-24, 15-13)
London Docklands Volleyball ended 2010 without a league win in the Super8s but have started the New Year with a stunning victory over second placed Sheffield. The word epic is often used but no word better describes Docklands' first match of 2011. The London side travelled with only seven players and without a regular opposite Matteo Cottignoli stepped back into the role he filled in the third round of the cup. His under-the-radar shots frustrated the well drilled home side whilst the attacking of Alexis Blair and Mohammed Sliti provided the power to take on the high Sheffield block. Docklands also welcomed back setter Andy Vincett for the first time since the end of November and with libero Mohammed Ali Tighsazzadeh providing a stable platform in both service receive and defence, Vincett was able to run his attack with confidence, a quality distinctly lacking in Docklands' first eight league matches.
Meanwhile, the home side could boast three GB internationals and several young England players in their ranks. But Docklands were undaunted by their supposed superior opposition and immediately took the game to Sheffield. A run of jump serves by Blair took Docklands 8-5 up at the first technical time-out and Docklands were looking up to the challenge. However, Keith Trenam's young side regrouped and upped their net game to shut out both Sliti and Blair whilst their one non-Brit, Frenchmen Arthur Faure, despatched two unstoppable hits on the wing. Docklands coach Andy Hopper was forced to call his first time-out 14-11 down. Sheffield maintained their advantage until two blocks by Slawek Omlyski narrowed the gap at 22-20. But Docklands' hope was short lived and Sheffield closed out the set with three quick fire points.
No one present would then have predicted what followed. Docklands again started the set well and led at both technical time-outs. Some deft attacking from Sliti and Cottignoli earned the visitors a set point at 24-23 but the subsequent serve was missed. The momentum swung back Sheffield's way but Docklands held on to earn another set point at 26-25. Again the serve was missed and it looked as though Docklands' best chance had gone. Both sides then entered into a ding dong battle that saw each side have eight set points. But each time their opponents clung on to prolong the set into its 42nd minute. In the end Sheffield prevailed with their ninth set point to take the set 41-39 - the highest points total ever in the top flight of English volleyball.
Most observers would then have expected Sheffield to coast to a 3-0 victory. But this new, energised Docklands side had other ideas. A service run by Pawel Stankiewicz turned a 5-7 deficit into an 8-7 lead and Docklands still believed the impossible was possible. Their varied hitting kept Sheffield's defence guessing whilst the home side's more orthodox middle attack of Andy Benson and Simon Mintoft kept them in the hunt. But Docklands started to up their service pressure and restricted their host's middle option. Both sides' defence brought about some extended rallies but Docklands started to win the majority of these with some excellent pick ups by Ali Tighsazzadeh and Cottignoli. Then two serves by the later gave Docklands a crucial 23-21 lead and despite a mini-recovery by Sheffield, Docklands held on to take the set 25-23.
This was Docklands' second set win of the season with their only other mini-victory rather incongruously also against high flying Sheffield. The home side set about readdressing the balance and took advantage of some lapses in concentration by Docklands to lead 11-7 and then 15-8. But Docklands were not finished yet. Sliti produced a run of deceptive float serves and backed up by blocks from Vincett and Omlyski, Docklands started to claw their way back into the set. Sliti was devastated when his fifth serve found the net but he had done enough to get his side back into the match as they were just 16-13 down at the final technical time-out of the match. The momentum was all with Docklands and they took the lead at 19-18. Docklands were then helped by Sheffield being called for two consecutive rotation faults. Both sides traded points until Docklands earned their first set point at 24-22. Sheffield held their nerve to level it at 24-24. This time it was Docklands who had to steady themselves as Blair wiped off the Sheffield block to secure his side's third set point. The crowd were probably thinking, "Here we go again", but thankfully for Docklands a Sheffield hitting error gifted them a 26-24 fourth set victory.
Docklands started the final set in a hurry with Sliti again causing problems from the service line to help take his side 5-1 up. Sheffield managed to regain their composure but an ace by Cottignoli saw Docklands ahead 8-6 at the change of ends. Docklands maintained their slender lead until a short run of probing serves by Mintoft piled the pressure back on Docklands and the scores were tied at 12-12. Then Sliti produced one of the shots of the match, powering his smash off the head of the Sheffield blocker, high into the roof. After some solid defence by Ali Tighsazzadeh, Blair wiped off the block and despite Sheffield claiming it hit him on the way down, Docklands were given their first of two match points. A well placed spike by Benson ensured Docklands had to sideout to win their first match of the season. The end of the final rally had a familiar ring to it as Blair hit off Sheffield's tall block to send him and his team mates into a delirious celebration. At the end of the regular season the result of this match will no doubt be wiped from Docklands' record before the play-offs start but at that moment that didn't matter to Docklands as a sense of relief sunk in.
This was Docklands' first win in five attempts at All Saints and at over two and half hours, Docklands' longest ever match. In the end Sheffield won a total of 126 points (another top flight record) against Docklands 125.
Captain Blair commented afterwards, "I'm obviously delighted with the result but more so with the way we stuck together and never gave up. It's crucial that we carry this forward into the rest of this season, starting next week against Riga".
match, a minute's applause was carried out to mark the untimely death
of Richard Belton at the age of 24. Up until recently Richard
worked for Volleyball England. He collapsed on Thursday night during a
local league volleyball match and passed away in hospital shortly afterwards.
Everyone who had the fortune to meet Richard will remember him
as an all round great bloke who was always quick to help. He will be sorely
missed. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult
Docklands: Ali Tighsazzadeh, Stankiewicz, Omylski, Cottignoli, Blair, Sliti, Vincett.
Sheffield: Miller, Kendray, Howe, Green, Faure, Clayden, Benson, Mills, Mintoft, Baker.
Black Knight: Andy Vincett