Opponents: Malory Eagles & IBB Polonia Competition: Super8s Date: Saturday/Sunday 4th/5th March 2017 Venue: Ernest Bevin College & Brentford LC Malory Result: W 3-1 (25-19, 25-15, 17-25, 25-18) Polonia Result: L 3-1 (17-25, 23-25, 25-22, 20-25) Headline: Docklands climb to sixth but are forced to wait Author: Andy Hopper
London Docklands secured a crucial 3-1 victory over old rivals Malory on Saturday in the battle to reach the end of season play-offs. It was important that Docklands made it a three-point win and after taking the first two sets with ease it looked like Andy Hopper's side would comfortably do this. Setter Kieran O'Malley, one of eleven players to represent both teams, was in fine form, bamboozling the Malory blockers giving Docklands' wing hitters Andrew Pink and Raul Sanchez Galan single blocks on many occasions. After missing the last match with a neck injury Mathieu Ras was back in the opposite slot and was often left with an open net to attack such was O'Malley's control over Ras' opposite number.
Docklands were without the height of middle blocker Flavien Hias but Francois Leroy and Tomek Wysocki were playing their part in the torment of Malory's defence. Both middle attackers were a constant threat and frequently won Docklands simple sideouts to keep the pressure on the visitors.
The definition of visitors was a loose one for this match as the continued unavailability of Docklands' regular home venue has led them to use Ernest Bevin College, Malory's usual home. But Docklands were doing their best to make Malory feel far away from home as they strolled to the first two sets 25-19 and 25-15.
Malory have achieved some impressive wins this season against Team Northumbria, Sheffield and Wessex. But Jefferson Williams' side had no answer to the varied attacking of Docklands. At the start of set three Williams' rejigged his formation, switching Scott Weniger to opposite and introducing captain Luciano Pinter on the wing. The tactic was working as Malory took a 6-3 lead. But then Pink hit through Weniger's block and into his face. The clearly dazed Canadian was substituted as a precaution bringing Christopher Chapell'e II back into the fold. Instead of disrupting Malory, the change seemed to galvanise Williams' charges and they started to take the game to Docklands. This time it was Docklands who had no answer. England Junior Ryan Poole was becoming more influential in the game and it was his kill that secured a 25-17 third set win and pulled Malory back into the match.
The fourth set was a tight affair until a run of jump serves by Ras helped turn a 10-12 deficit into a 13-12 lead for Docklands. This sparked Docklands into life and Leroy followed Ras' lead to cause Malory's passing unit more problems. Docklands were suddenly 18-14 up and seemingly on course to take the match. But Malory had other ideas as Adam Baiza challenged Docklands' passers with some tricky jump float serving. It took a time-out at 18-17 up to steady Docklands' ship. After siding out, O'Malley went back to serve. His service pressure and blocking by Wysocki and Pink saw Malory's recovery disintegrate. O'Malley pulled off an ace that landed on the side line and Malory's heads went down even further. Malory failed to score another point as Docklands powered their way to a 25-18 fourth set win.
Captain Pink commented afterwards, "I said earlier in the season that we maybe weren't getting the results we deserved but we would keep on getting better and by the time the play-offs came around we would be the team no one will want to face. Well, we still have some work to do but we're hitting some form and we could be peaking at just the right time".
On Sunday Docklands had their first chance to seal their play-off place but faced a tough challenge against second placed IBB Polonia. Piotr Graban's side are guaranteed second place and a home tie in the semi final of the play-offs. But Graban was in no mood to offer Docklands any gifts, starting with the majority of his first six. The home side have Polish legend Krzysztof Ignaczak waiting in the wings, signed in time for the play-offs, so the rest of the Polonia squad are playing for the chance to share the court with the former international.
After the previous day's victory Docklands started confidently but struggled to adapt to the greater power they were facing. Docklands managed to remain in touch for most of the set but when it reached the business end, Polonia turned up the heat and strolled to a 25-17 first set win.
With Wysocki and Leroy switched in the rotation, Docklands began to get more success at the net against Phil Smith. Pink was rolling back the years with some crafty net play but the height and strength of the Polonia block was putting constant pressure on Docklands' attackers. Polonia were in control at 16-11 but some battling play and solid defence from libero Marcel Sivak helped Docklands close the gap, forcing Graban to call a time-out 19-17 ahead. A clever run of serves by Bartosz Kisielewicz eased any of Graban's fears to help set up four set points at 24-20. Docklands managed to save three of them but finally succumbed to a clinical hit by Michal Bartoszak.
Docklands maintained their momentum into set three and started to play with more freedom. Some smart serving by Sanchez Galan aligned with some slack Polonia play saw Docklands sneak ahead 12-9. Polonia recovered to 12-12 but Docklands were on the up and were clearly enjoying the fight. They kept Polonia honest and made it clear they were not going to give their hosts an easy 3-0 win. At 19-19 Docklands made the crucial break with an ace by Leroy and after an uncharacteristic error by Polonia captain Marius Ciortea, Docklands were suddenly 21-19 up. The momentum was all with Docklands and they held on to take the third set 25-22.
Docklands needed to start set four well but got stuck on one rotation and Polonia took full advantage. The two game weekend was beginning to tell on some of Docklands players and despite the introduction of Ras and Julian Marcon, Polonia were able to keep Docklands at arms length. In the end Polonia sealed the match with a 25-20 fourth set win.
eyes now turn to Ernest Bevin College on the 18th March when Malory take
on Lynx. If Malory fail to gain a point, Docklands will be guaranteed
a play-off place. But if Malory win two or more sets they will need to
get something out of their final regular season game, again against Polonia
on 25th March.
MVP v Malory: Marcel Sivak
MVP v Polonia: Marcel Sivak