12 Feb 2024

NVL Review (10th and 11th February): Blaze strengthen promotion hopes as Miners go 12 points clear

NVL Review (10th and 11th February): Blaze strengthen promotion hopes as Miners go 12 points clear

Essex Blaze struck a significant blow in the men’s NVL Division one title race as they were assured 3-0 victors at second-placed London Giants as part of a busy weekend of matches.

The top two’s battle at Caius House Youth Centre had the potential of being a cracker given the home side’s recent march up the table into second place. 

But they met their match in leaders Blaze, who brushed aside their opponents 25-16, 25-22, 25-19 to move seven points clear after winning their 10th league match from 11 attempts. 

Their nearest challengers could now be London Aces after they took their record to 8-2 with a 3-1 win over a Weymouth Beach side whose promising season has hit the buffers in recent weeks. 

The capital club ran out 25-21, 25-18, 21-25, 25-19 and, while still fourth, they have two games in hand on the two teams immediately above them. 

Further down the table, Cambridge ARU edged to a 3-2 victory over Tamworth Spartans to keep themselves clear of relegation trouble. 

The 25-13, 24-26, 25-20, 22-25, 17-15 result means the Midlanders remain in trouble and will continue to battle it out with Manchester Marvels and Coventry and Warwick Riga in the bid for survival. 

Bristol were pushed to the limit in their bid to stay unbeaten in Division 2 South, but they did so thanks to a dramatic five-set triumph over Spelthorne Lions. 

The Surrey club had already beaten City of Bristol 3-0 in back-to-bank games on the banks of the Avon to secure third spot in the table and were no less determined for their second match in the weekend. 

Indeed, after the home side took the first set 25-10, the Lions fought back brilliantly to take the next two 25-22, 25-23. 

Bristol, though, had the final say, winning the fourth 25-12 and then prevailing 15-13 in a tense tie break. 

Exeter Storm demonstrated it was a good job their rivals did win, too, as they moved level on points and top on set quotient – albeit having played a game more – with a comfortable 3-0 success over Wiltshire Mavericks

They overcame the league’s fourth place side 25-17, 25-17, 25-20, meaning both West Country sides have 24 points – putting them well clear of the rest of the league. 

In Division 2 Central, Norwich Spikers’ 3-1 defeat at Newmarket had ramifications as they lost hold of second spot. 

Despite winning the first set 25-17, they lost the next three 25-19, 25-18, 25-19 to leave an opportunity for London Baks, who took full advantage. 

The London side secured a 3-1 win at Dartford Crossers as they came through 25-11, 29-27, 19-25, 25-18 to move two points off the top. 

That summit place is held by Hounslow, who were pushed hard but came through to beat Wombourne 25-23, 25-23, 25-18. 

The division’s other match was a thriller, with Cambridge edging to a tight 3-2 victory as they saw off the the league’s bottom side MK City 25-22, 24-26, 20-25, 25-19, 15-10. 

With only one match in Division 2 North, Darkstar Derbyshire were able to take advantage of Hull Thunder’s inactivity to regain top spot by one point as they were 3-1 winners at Harrogate, prevailing 25-17, 20-25, 25-19, 25-23. 

With a National Shield semi-final against Oxford to look forward to, Wigan Seahawks warmed up for that match with a double weekend victory, to strengthen their Division 2 North West promotion bid. 

In a triangular fixture they saw off Liverpool U18 and leaders Manchester Moss Side in contrasting style, edging the former match 15-8 in a fifth set tie break after coming from two sets down (21-25, 22-25, 25-20, 25-12) before coming through the latter match in straight sets (25-21, 26-24, 25-22). 

The other match saw Manchester come through 3-1 after dropping the opening set (23-25, 25-19, 25-23, 25-23). 

The results leave Wigan in fourth place in the table and in the running to finish top of the pile come the end of the season along Newcastle Staffs 2, Chester and Moss Side, who are still three points clear at the summit. 

Division 2 North Central saw a hugely important triangular match between the top three teams, which all went to five sets and saw York Vikings emerge the happiest. 

They beat both the previously unbeaten Leeds Gorse 2 (25-23, 25-18, 20-25, 15-25, 15-8) and Kings of Court Boston (25-18, 25-22, 15-25, 22-25, 15-11) in the same way – winning the first two sets, losing the next two, and then coming good again the tie breaker. 

Hosts Leeds’ misery at the Ruth Gorse Academy was compounded when they also lost a second match, this time to the Lincolnshire side, who ran out 23-25, 25-14, 19-25 25-16, 15-13 victors. 

The upshot was that Kings Of Court remain top by a point with a game in hand while the Viking are up to second and Leeds are third.

The action in Division 3 South East started on Friday night as Bedford GNG came through a topsy-turvy match at Wapping Wildcats to win 24-26, 25-21, 32-30, 20-25, 15-11. 

Matches in the division’s triangular over the weekend were much more clear cut, with all three matches ending in 3-0 scorelines. 

Rhinos Cambridge were the main beneficiaries as they defeated both Leicester (25-16, 26-17, 25-20) and the Wildcats (25-13, 25-17, 25-14), who were playing three games in three days. 

Leicester took something from the fixture as they got the better of Wapping 25-18, 25-15, 25-12. 

With just one defeat in nine matches, Rhinos will harbour strong hopes of mounting a serious promotion challenge. 

In Division Three South West, leaders Southampton retained their position at the top with a confident 25-19, 25-14, 25-16 success over Urbond Portsmouth

Behind them, Worthing kept up the heat in second with triangular victories over Reading Aces by 3-0, (25-19, 25-17, 25-13) and Weymouth Waves by 3-1 (25-16, 25-21, 21-25, 25-18). 

The Berkshire club beat South Coast Weymouth 3-1 (25-18, 25-22, 20-25, 26-24) to stay in third. 

In the women’s competition, Stockport climbed back above Wessex by one point to head up Division 1. 

They journeyed south to secure away victories at both London Inter Crocs on Saturday (25-16, 25-22, 25-27, 25-13) and Dartford Chargers on Sunday (25-21, 25-17, 25-12) to bounce back from last weekend’s defeat by Everton Belugas

For their part, Wessex did all they could by keeping pace in their one match as they saw off MK City 3-0 (25-18, 25-21, 25-20) and know that they still have a game in hand on their rivals. 

It was not all bad news for the Inter Crocs, whose second game of the weekend matched them with Leicester Athena and they came out on top 3-0 (25-20, 25-19, 26-24). 

The East Midlanders also experienced a win one, lose one mixed bag, having defeated Bristol 3-1 the day before thanks to a 25-22, 25-17, 22-25, 25-22 scoreline. 

But there was no such solace for MK, whose weekend on the road concluded with a 25-18, 25-18, 25-20 setback at Southampton

Team Sunderland maintained their unbeaten record in Division 2 North as they notched confident straight sets home and away victories over Everton Narwhals (25-16, 25-12, 25-9) and Manchester Marvels Mystics (25-14, 25-6, 25-16) on consecutive days. 

It means they have still lost only one set in the league this season in accumulating a 10-point lead at the top.

Second-placed Manchester Marvels Mayhem were also winners, taking a tight first set against the Narwhals and going on to make it a miserable weekend for the Merseysiders with a 3-0 win (29-27, 25-17, 25-20). 

Leeds Gorse 2 made their trip to the West Midlands a successful one as they took home the points from a 3-0 triumph at Tamworth Spartans (25-23, 25-23, 25-14) to edge themselves further away from the bottom end of the table. 

Two of Division 2 Central’s front runners were victorious in the only two matches played in that division. 

Essex Trinity’s 3-0 win (25-10 25-12, 25-17) at Coventry and Warwick Riga 2 came as no massive surprise given it was a top versus bottom clash, while Herts regained form after recently lapses by overcoming Rhinos Cambridge, also in straight sets (25-9, 30-28, 25-17). 

The one match in Division 2 South saw London Giants rarely look in trouble as they made it nine wins form nine with a straight sets win over Ashcombe Dorking (25-20, 25-12, 26-24) to extend their lead at the top to four points.

The Miners, Doncaster continued their relentless pursuit of the Division 3 North title with their 11th and 12th wins of the league season, both in straight sets against Hull Thunder (25-22, 25-14, 25-13) and York Falcons (25-18, 25-16, 26-24). 

The Humberside club then edge out York 3-1 (25-20, 20-25, 25-13, 25-21), as those teams stay second and third respectively, while the Miners are a full 12 points clear. 

Three triangular fixtures took place over the weekend on Division 3 Central, with the headline that the two West Midlands clubs remain in the top two places after both notched back-to-back wins. 

Leaders Newcastle Staffs were pushed all the way by hosts Lincoln Cannons in a five-setter (11-25, 25-16, 13-25, 25-20, 15-10), then found the going slightly easier in a 3-1 win over Leicester Athena 2 (25-10, 25-19, 25-27, 25-20). 

Lincoln were then straight sets winners over Leicester (25-21, 25-17, 25-22) to put further distance between the two sides in the table. 

Black Country are still unbeaten and two points behind Staffs with two games in hand after a 3-0 win over Wombourne (25-21, 25-12, 25-19) and 3-1 victory over Darkstar Derbyshire 2 (25-13, 25-16, 17-25, 25-14). 

Despite losing a tense five-setter to Wombourne (25-17, 25-22, 25-27, 18-25, 18-16), Darkstar stay third, but with their conquerors now just a point behind them with games in hand. 

On Saturday, Nottingham Rockets had enjoyed success in their triangular at the Southglade Leisure Centre with wins over Nottinghamshire neighbours Ashfield Vipers and Black Country 2

Ashfield, however, came out on top in the clash of the bottom two with a second win of the season, emerging as 3-2 victors (25-15, 15-25, 25-13, 19-25, 15-12) after defeat to the same opponents only a week previously. 

Tendring endured a frustrating Sunday in Division 3 South East as they were beaten twice in straight sets by Reading Aces (25-22, 25-19, 25-7) and unbeaten Onyx (25-13, 25-15, 25-14) at Kensington Aldridge Academy. 

But the Essex side can take solace from the fact that their opponents have only lost one game between them all season as they sit third and second respectively behind Cambridge, who have played more games. 

Cheltenham and Gloucester stay top of a tight Division 3 North West but lost one of their two weekend games to title rivals Plymouth UTV, going down 3-0 (25-18, 25-19, 25-13). 

But they did win their other match 3-1 against Plymouth Mayflower by a 3-1 margin (25-22, 24-26, 25-24, 26-24) in a tightly-contested affair where no set weas won by more than three points.

 To view all the weekend's NVL results in full, click here. 

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