Sunderland City Predators continue their remarkable debut season run in the Men’s Division 3 North title race after they took over their rivals for the second place.
The Predators comfortably overcame RAF Harriers with a 3-0 result in a game which had much more to it than just three points at stake.
In a crucial promotion decider, RAF Harriers didn’t quite match their hosts in the first and last sets which both finished 25-12. It wasn’t until the second set that the guests lived up to the expectations and responded adequately to well-structured Sunderland attacks.
The top two teams will be promoted to Division 2 and although a title win appears to be a long shot, the Predators are very much in the promotion mix.
Sunderland started off well with an overpowering attack and a determined defence – a perfectly executed block gained them the first point in the match followed straight away by a Mateusz Krzyzanowsili diagonal to get the team to a confident first points of a crucial encounter.
Krzyzanowsili again used a strong spike service to successfully disturb the rivals’ defence twice in a row to put his side 8-4 ahead.
As the set came in the double digits for the home side, it was evident that the nerves were getting the better of Harriers – a simple ball brought some confusion between Harriers’ Kevin Colton and Darren Willison.
At Scott Hailes’ serve, Gareth Bevan wrongly screamed out that the ball was out to give the point away which maintained the pressure even more.
The Predators took full advantage of the situation and proceeded quickly to 20-6 and eventually won the set.
In the beginning of the second set the Sunderland players continued their attacking rhythm through Krzyzanowsili’s ace and Nicolas Ricci’s efforts to advance 8-4.
It looked like RAF were bouncing back as they maintained a first lead in the match at 10-11. From then on it was a point-to-point contest. It was now obvious the fixture was going to be a tense one.
Joe Wilson’s exquisite serve brought a much needed point but Krzyzanowsili’s out shot put the teams in an equal (14-14) position once again.
RAF Harriers used the disturbed state of the hosts’ defence, who allowed two consecutive mistakes, to put them 17-19 ahead. They kept the lead until 22-23 when Graeme Brough built up a solid attack for 24:23.
The last set showed Sunderland City Predators regaining their dominance through the proper reception and concentrated attacks to quickly lead 8:1.
Krzyzanowsili played his best as he helped with a serve for 3 successive points. RAF Harriers called a time out at 15:5 in the hope of stopping his run.
Harriers tried to force the Predators to make mistakes but the hosts balanced concentration and energy to eventually win the battle.
Predators coach Keith Sowden was pleased with the outcome. He said: “I’m happy with the result but not entirely happy with the performance.
“We’ve now put ourselves in a position of a possible promotion which is fantastic and that would be a good end of the season but we could have played a lot better there.
“There are still things that we worked on in training and didn’t quite bring into the game today but on the whole I’m quite happy with a 3:0 win.”
It was only in the second set that the true Harriers emerged, as they kept within touching distance to the hosts.
“What happens in volleyball is that they don’t turn up until 10 minutes before the game so you know as a coach that the second set is going to be difficult because they’re ready to play by the time of the second set which is exactly what happened to us,” Sowden added.
Predators Captain Jonathan Berriman said: “In the first set we both played well and took good chances but in the second set we were a bit shaky and Harriers were a lot stronger.
“They’re also doing well in the league so now that we’ve beaten our rivals for the second place we’re a step closer to promotion but obviously we’ve got three more games. We’ll just keep an eye on those and hope it will be alright.”