After disappointment in the South-West Derby, Sunday's match against Grantham Sharks 2 was important. They effectively ended our promotion push last season, and now we needed revenge to stay clear of the relegation pool. Team lists were closely matched, and the consensus was that a result was definitely possible - admittedly that consensus was limited to the four players who were anywhere to be seen by half ten.
As usual when on reporting duty, I missed the start - this time the ECF's evil Home Director was to blame. But after stealing a look out of the opening things seemed reasonably good: David, Phil, Steve and Jerry had all achieved some nagging pressure with the white bits, which seemed like reasonable compensation for Chris and Nigel essaying the Dutch and the French respectively. Richard and Max both had interesting counter-play as black, so I guessed that we had a narrow edge overall. Indeed, if the match had been played on the clocks then we would have been home and hosed already - the first and last time those words will ever be written about a Downend team.
Inevitably though, a couple of quick draws with white soon rolled in. David dived into a sacrificial sequence that was only good enough for a perpetual check, and whilst Phil seemed to be doing well after getting a c4-c5 break in, in his own words "it just fizzled". Nigel and Chris were starting to come under some pressure, but with Jerry's position starting to look seriously good and Steve about to lap his opponent on the clock, everything was up in the air. Richard's and Max's games remained unclear.
But just like the day before, the approach to the time control turned badly against us. First and most painfully, Steve dropped a rook with his opponent down to the increment and had to resign on the spot. Then Nigel's queenside collapsed, and shortly after Max's attack turned out to be too slow, which cost him a piece. Though he was able to give his opponent a few things to think about, the result was never really in doubt. Just like that, we were three down with no real hope of saving the match: although Richard and Jerry stood alright, Chris' position was far from healthy - and we needed three wins.
Richard put us out of our misery by agreeing a draw in a position with no winning chances, and with the match lost Jerry decided to do the same: he seemed close to a decisive advantage the whole way, but somehow his opponent managed to escape into an endgame. That left Chris on his own to wonder who had ever told him that early f-pawn moves were a good idea. Outrageously, he was able to cling on with excellent endgame technique, sacrificing two pawns for activity in a RRB-RRN ending - but that bit of larceny still left us on the wrong side of 2½-5½.
So we have to run the gauntlet of the relegation pool after all, but we will take forward at least 4/6 points - if we beat The ADs in the final preliminary round and Barbican Youth win, then it could even be 6/6. Even then, if we want to stay up then we will have to start winning more than one game in a weekend!