Premier Division Top 8 report

Published 19/04/2024 at 23:34:48 by Michael Howard; edited 1 times, last on 20/04/2024 at 00:36:41 by Michael Howard.

History maker Howard wins Premier Top 8 for fourth time in a row!
You have to go back to April 2018 when Matt Evans beat Alan Cherry to find a different winner of the MK Premier Top 8 outside of Nick Howard.
This year’s competition was absolutely stacked, with the top 7 all available, and only Hakan (8th) having to drop out which allowed Darren Ward (9th) a place in the end of season showpiece finale.
Group 1 consisted of:
Alan Cherry (1), Tomek Nowakowski (4), Nick Howard (5), Darren Ward (
Group 2 consisted of:
Craig Brown (2), Ian Mead (3), Ricky Taiwo (6), Jecu Aurelian (7)
Group 1 was as competitive as I’ve ever seen a top 8 group, the 6 matches lasting 2 ½ hours.
After Darren Ward dismantled Alan Cherry 3-0 in the opening match, the next 3 matches were all incredibly tight. Tomek came roaring back from a 2-0 deficit to defending champion, Nick, to take the match in 5, with a close 11-8 win. In the next match, Tomek then had to overcome Darren, who was playing out of his skin, to also win in 5 and secure his place in the semi-finals. Darren can count himself unlucky, as Tomek won 13-15, 11-9.5-11,15-13,12-10 in a highly competitive and entertaining match.
It was almost deja vu for Nick as he let a 2-0 lead slip to Alan, before finding himself 8-0 up in the 5th, and finally getting on the scoreboard with an 11-2 final leg….. dumping the number 1 seed, Cherry out of the tournament completely! Nick then faced off against red hot Darren, with the victor advancing to the semi-finals.
In a very close game, Darren wasted 5 match points and eventually succumbed to Howard 15-13 in the 5th - Somehow…. Nick survived the group of death after losing the first match!
Tomek needed to beat Alan to advance as the winner of the group (a 3-2 loss would go to count back with a 3-0 or 3-1 loss meaning he finished second). Despite Tomek getting on the scoreboard in the 3rd game, it was always Alan’s match in a 3-1 win.
Group standings: 1. Nick Howard 2. Tomek Nowakowski 3. Darren Ward (eliminated) 4. Alan Cherry (eliminated)
No such dramas in Group 2, in which no match went beyond 4 games, the group then having to wait for over 30 minutes before the semi-finals could start.
Craig Brown swept all aside with relative ease as he won all 3 matches, beating Ricky and Jecu 3-0 and Ian 3-1. Ricky was on top form to battle to very important wins over Jecu, but more importantly, Ian, both in 4 games. Ian had earlier beaten Jecu 3-0 and needed to beat Craig in the final group match to advance, but Craig stayed in control to win 11-8, 11-9. 8-11. 11-3.
No luck for Jecu on the night as he went home winless (although he stayed to support his fellow players and even umpired the final, which is always appreciated!)
Group standings: 1 Craig Brown 2. Ricky Taiwo 3. Ian Mead (eliminated) 4. Jecu Aurelian (eliminated)
Semi Final 1: Nick Howard vs Ricky Taiwo
Playing Ricky is never easy, and so it proved on a chilly April night. Nick took a tense first 12-10 before he let a monstrous 10-4 lead slip in the 2nd to get Ricky on the scoreboard 15-13! No danger after that though, as the tiring Ricky couldn’t find enough juice to force a 5th set, and Nick advanced to the final with a 12-10, 13-15, 11-5,11-7 win.
Semi Final 2: Craig Brown vs Tomek Nowakowski
“I’d rather play Craig than Ricky” were the words of Tomek as we looked at the semi-final match ups, and boy did that stoke a fire so big inside Craig, you could heat up the MK Centre for a week.
Craig has not beaten Tomek for what feels like an eternity, and the added motivation was all he needed to produce the performance of his life in an exquisite 3-1 victory to advance to the final, by 12-10, 11-3, 10-12, 13-11.
Final: Nick Howard vs Craig Brown
Titan vs Titan, friend vs friend, doubles partner vs doubles partner…. but there were no secret service signals in this match. Craig raced into a strong lead in the first, and despite being pegged back slightly, was still the winner by some margin. Nick managed to eke out his own lead in the 2nd, and continued the momentum in the 3rd, despite not playing at his best. At 2-1 down, the 4th never really came to Craig, and Nick ran out the victor with an 11-5 final leg and his fourth Top 8 title in a row, by 6-11, 11-7.11-8.11-5. (one before Covid in 2018/19 and the last 3 consecutive seasons since the league resumed)
Craig (a two-time winner himself) will be disappointed with the final match, having played the best table tennis all night, and Nick can thank his lucky stars that he just did enough to keep in the picture and sneak through right at the end. A fantastic night of table tennis to finish the season!
As always, a huge thanks to all of the volunteers, organisers, fans and players - It has been an incredible year and I look forward to more of the same next season!
MK Premier Top 8 Champion: Nick Howard:  Runner-up Craig Brown
Nick’s 4th Premier Top 8 win puts him level with Ian Musk, who won the last of his titles in 1999/2000 and one behind the all-time leader of the event – none other than Alan Cherry. In the 40 years of the Premier Top 8, no player other than these 3 has won more than two titles.
Report prepared by Nick Howard, with edits and additions by Mike Howard