Essex Premier extended their pole position finish in their final Inter County group match with a healthy 25-15 away victory over Oxfordshire, at the Regal Centre.
Essex were without numerous players including manager Adam Sultana, Barry Hedges, Matt Stifford and Mo Binstead but still stuck to the job at hand – to progress to the knockout stages.
Mitchell Young and Matt Dillon stepped up into the singles with Young getting Essex off the mark after a 14-6 win over Gareth Davies. Dillon found himself behind early on and struggled to get back into the game despite his best efforts lost 15-13.
Chris Coates and Peter Fautley continued their superb partnership with a 14-9 victory over the Oxford pairing skipped by AJ Brown. Babs Morokutti and Keith Paxman tried their best to find a way through Geoff Brown and Dave Wiggins but could not find enough, as they lost 15-10 – to split the session 4-4.
In the second session, the Essex triples had a tough time as Shirley Banner, Alan Kay and Tony Ealham fell to a 13-6 defeat. Also Tony Orpin, Paul Read and Phil Banner went behind and to lose by the same scoreline.
The fours had more fortune, as Del Coates, Rachael Cordy, Steve Killington and Craig Burgess held off the Oxford quartet to win 8-5. Debbie Dillion, Linda Lambert, Paul Bax and Anthony Fautley pulled away towards the end of their game to win comfortably 18-5 – as both sides went into the break level at 8-8.
After the break, Young continued his good start, as he won 20-4. Dillon followed up with a 15-10 win over Davies – to claim the bonus points.
Fautley (Senior) and Coates (Junior) showed their promising partnership, as they won 15-6. Morokutti and Paxman struggled once again against Brown and his counterpart, but Paxman saved the bonus points with his last bowl as they lost 16-7 – to split the points and gave Essex a 17-11 lead.
In the final session, Banner, Kay and Ealham found themselves in more trouble – resorting to damage limitation as they lost 21-6. Orpin, Read and Banner put their first game behind them, as they won 13-6 but unfortunately was not enough to recover the bonus point deficit.
The fours carried on where they left off, as Dillon, Lambert, Bax and Fautley (Junior) held off a late attack from the Oxford four as they won 10-8. Coates (Senior), Cordy, Killington and Burgess also maintained their lead despite a last end gasp, with a 10-8 victory and the bonus points to complete the 25-15 win.
Essex will now await their opponents in the knockout stages, after the festive break in search of their first ICC premier title.
Craig Burgess: 7 1/2 / 10
Matt Dillion: 7/10
Debbie Dillion: 8/10
Mitchell Young: 8/10
Peter Fautley: 8/10
Chris Coates: 8/10
Babs Morokutti: 4/10
Keith Paxman: 4/10
Tony Orpin: 5/10
Paul Read: 5 1/2 /10
Phil Banner: 5 1/2 / 10
Shirley Banner: 3 1/2 /10
Alan Kay: 4/10
Tony Ealham: 4/10
Linda Lambert: 7/10
Paul Bax: 7/10
Anthony Fautley: 7/10
Del Coates: 7/10
Rachael Cordy: 6 1/2 /10
Steve Killington: 7/10