Harlow left numb as title slips from grasp

Numb! That is how Greg Harlow described his feelings after he and City of Ely clubmate Ellen Falkner lost on a tie-break in a WBT Matchplay mixed pairs final they looked to have under control at Potters yesterday.

But full marks to Guernsey's battling Allison Merrien and Nottingham's inspirational skip Simon Skelton, who never gave up and came through to win 5-7, 8-7, 2-0.

The battle between the leads was pretty even, with Falkner, who won a Commonwealth Games women's pairs gold medal in October, and Merrien taking it in turns to get on top.

But it was reigning world indoor singles champion Harlow who had the answer to everything in the first set, producing sensational bowls and rising to every challenge Merrien and Skelton could throw at him.

Three shots down, all within a foot of the jack? Simple – Harlow would draw the shot. Such was his mastery of the portable rink that only one result seemed possible – but we were wrong.

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Superman Harlow continued to play well, but looked merely human in the second set, and Skelton rose to the occasion, playing superb bowls under pressure – including an inch-perfect draw to claim a double to win the second set.

Winning the first end of the tie-break, things looked bleak for Merrien and Skelton on the second end, when Falkner crowded the jack, but a cracking drive by Skelton sent the jack out of bounds.

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When the jack was re-spotted, Harlow, attempting to draw with his last bowl, slipped through a couple of feet, leaving Skelton to draw the winner on top of the jack.

It was the first WBT title that Merrien or Skelton had achieved at Potters and their smiles as they lifted the Langham Glass Trophy reflected the immensity of their achievement.

'I've lost in a couple of women's singles finals, so it was terrific to win that one,' said Merrien. 'Simon and I are both quite laid-back, and we play well together – though it hasn't quite sunk in yet.'

Merrien has struck gold several times at the rival code's championships, winning the WIBC women's world indoor singles and mixed pairs titles, and is number three in the world outdoor rankings.

She added: 'The celebrations will have to wait, because I'm back on the rink first thing in the morning to take on the Scottish champion Julie Forrest in the semi-finals of the women's Matchplay.'

Burly Dundee policeman Darren Burnett became one of the first players to clinch a place in the quarter-finals of the singles, squeezing through 8-9, 9-6, 2-0 on a tie-break, against Jason Greenslade.

Both players hit good form in patches but the difference between them turned on the effectiveness of their attacking bowls.

Burnett struck accurately, and obtained good results, especially in the second set, but Greenslade's attempts to disturb the Scot's handiwork, though generally on target, went unrewarded.

On one end, Greenslade played what appeared to be a perfect drive, but merely succeeded in 're-arranging the furniture' and he was desperately unlucky to drop a full house of four shots.

Burnett will play Suffolk's Mark Royal for a place in the semi-final after the Stowmarket bowler beat Nick Brett 8-3, 6-6, last night. Royal had led the second set 6-1 but just managed to hold off the City of Ely bowler's comeback.

Tomorrow morning is when Acle's Tim Stone takes on five-times champion Alex Marshall for a place in the quarter finals, while Gallow's Mervyn King faces his England team-mate Brett Arkley in the afternoon.

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