Free Church struggle in British League opener

Free Church squad members Adam Cofler, Lewis Singleton and Jack Green and director of coaching Chris Mulligan present a team shirt, signed by England number one Kelly Sibley, to Rob Smith, sales manager of team sponsors NS Optimum. Picture submitted

Free Church squad members Adam Cofler, Lewis Singleton and Jack Green and director of coaching Chris Mulligan present a team shirt, signed by England number one Kelly Sibley, to Rob Smith, sales manager of team sponsors NS Optimum. Picture submitted

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A new-look Lillington Free Church side endured a tough opening weekend in the Junior British League at Derby Arena.

Again competing in Division 2B, the reigning silver medallists brought in Adam Cofler, Jack Green and Lewis Singleton to join last season’s number one Timmy Cooper.

And if they were under any illusions as to the quality of opposition in the division, things were quickly cleared up as Cooper, Cofler and Singleton were whitewashed 6-0 by Halton.

Next up were Kingfisher who boasted the prodigious Jamie Liu among their ranks.

Cooper was first up for Lillington and failed to cope with Liu’s speed and spin in the first leg before adjusting and becoming more competitive in the ensuing legs. Liu, who represents England in the younger age groups, was just too sharp, though, and ran out a 3-1 winner.

Jack Green was brought into the side for the second match and produced some excellent play in his opener against Sam Liu, showing good touch combined with attacking intent. Green lost two close legs before taking the third, but the fourth ran away from him.

Adam Cofler also fell to Sam Liu in four legs and did extremely well to take the Kingfisher number one, Josh Gallen, to four.

Cooper extended Gallen to a fifth leg, which he came through to win 11-9 and pick up Lillington’s first win of the day, salvaging some pride in a 5-1 defeat.

The last match on the first day was against top-seeded Market Rasen.

Rasen’s number one Sam Chesterman was in imperious form as he blew away Cooper and Green 3-0.

Singleton produced a fine effort against Nick Keast, taking him to a fifth leg before succumbing.

Green was unfortunate not to take Rasen’s Tom McIntosh the distance as a strong finish at the end of a competitive fourth leg gave McIntosh a 3-1 win.

Cooper lost the first leg to Keast, but knuckled down to reel off the next three for another consolation win.

Day two started in positive fashion as Cooper secured a comfortable 3-0 win against Ulster’s Conor Nugent, using a combination of controlled blocking and offensive top-
spin.

Adam Cofler followed this up with an outstanding win against Ulster’s number one James Magrath. In a see-saw match, Cofler found himself 8-7 down in the deciding leg when a time-out was called from the corner.

Composing himself and cutting out the cheap errors that were costing him, Cofler reeled off the next four points to put Lillington 2-0 up.

Jack Green was next to step up and faced Connor Smith.

Green found himself 2-1 down and squeezed home in a tight leg to go to the decider.

Green’s touch play was superb and he opened up a big lead before Smith started to narrow the gap. Another effective time-out was called to stem the comeback and Green served intelligently to finish the job 11-6.

Lillington were guaranteed at least a draw, but the win looked far from certain as Cooper could not find a way past Magrath and Green found himself on the wrong end of an 11-6 fifth leg, this time against Nugent.

This left Cofler to play the final game of the match against Smith.

After winning a tight first leg, Cofler was ominously blown away in the second. He stayed calm, though, and found his attacking range to take the final two legs and give Lillington their first win of the weekend.

In their final match of the weekend, Lillington fell 3-0 down to Irish Boys as Green, Cooper and Singleton were defeated by Thomas Joyce, Dillon Byrne and Art Mclaughlin, respectively.

Cooper stemmed the tide with a win over Joyce, coming through a tense decider 17-15 and a draw was still possible.

However, it was not to be as Green and Lewis fell to Mclaughlin and Byrne in straight sets, leaving the final result as another 5-1 defeat.