A decisive 4/1 home victory over Group B leaders Exeter Diamonds in Tuesday's fifth round of the Premier Squash League (PSL) sees champions Integrity Surrey Health & Racquets reclaim top spot with a six-point lead over their west country rivals as the world's most prestigious squash league moves into the second half of the season.
But former champions Benz-Bavarian Duffield boast an 18-point lead at the top of the Group A tables after former world number one Nick Matthew led the Derbyshire club to a 4/1 away victory at Courtcraft Pontefract.
Exeter made a promising start to their visit to the Croydon club when Irish international Aisling Blake beat Nada Elkalaawy, a 16-year-old Egyptian making her debut this season for Surrey Health, 3/1.
Former world champion and world number one Peter Nicol began the fightback for the hosts by beating Devonian James Snell 11-9, 9-11, 11-4, 8-11, 11-7. And it was straight games wins for the home team thereafter as former Scottish champion Alan Clyne beat newly-crowned Welsh champion Peter Creed and Londoner Adrian Grant defeated PSL veteran Tim Vail.
The final match featured two of the players from last week's PSA flagship World Series Finals event at Queen's Club in London - England international Peter Barker and Dutch star Laurens Jan Anjema. World No7 Barker was in sparkling form, despatching Anjema 11-8, 11-9, 11-5 to extend the Croydon club's winning margin.
World Series Finals runner-up Gregory Gaultier was the star attraction on the south coast where IGT Winchester hosted TWP St George's Hill, the Weybridge club which finished as runners-up to Surrey Health in last season's national final.
And the Frenchman, ranked three in the world, delighted the crowd which had packed the club to see their hero by clinching the decider after the tie was poised at two-all - beating St George's star Tom Richards 11-9, 11-8, 11-6 to give Winchester a 3/2 victory.
"It's the first time this season that Greg has been able to play for us," said Winchester team manager Gary Hinton. "But we sold out as soon as we started publicising the fact that he was playing. He couldn't have done more for us tonight - he was great value."
UWE Bristol fell short in their bid to record their first win of the season in Group B, going down 3/2 at home to Team Chichester. Impressive performances from Lauren Briggs, Anthony Graham and Olivier Pett ensured the Chichester win - and Malaysian star Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan had a match-ball against the Bristol top string Mohamed El Shorbagy in the final match of the night.
But the 20-year-old world No6 from Egypt held his nerve to beat Adnan 11-5, 9-11, 8-11, 11-7, 12-10 in 56 minutes to enable the home crowd to leave on a high.
The main attraction in Group A was the Yorkshire clash between Pontefract and Duffield - in which Yorkshireman Nick Matthew was making his first competitive appearance on court since sustaining an adductor injury in Kuwait in November. Hosts Pontefract started well when Vanessa Atkinson, the retired former world number one, claimed victory over Jenny Duncalf when the current world No2 retired injured after just two games.
Victories by Aqeel Rehman, Andy Whipp and Joel Hinds had already ensured a Duffield win when the visitors' top string took on Pontefract stalwart Lee Beachill, the former world No1 who is now the Chief Operating Officer of the Professional Squash Association.
Matthew survived his comeback match in comfortable style, beating Beachill 11-6, 11-9, 11-5.
"The COO of PSA was kind enough to give me a good run out," said Matthew, now the world No2, afterwards. "He still has an unbelievable array of shots so I had to work hard but it was good to get the sensations back in the muscles again. You can arrange all the practice matches you want but nothing can replace a real match so hopefully I can progress onwards now with no hiccups before the Tournament of Champions later this month in New York."
In the other tie in Group A, Oxford Health & Racquets beat MB Nottingham 4/1 to replace the East Midlands club in second place in the group tables. Nottingham earned perhaps their most surprising point when club stalwart Emma Beddoes, ranked 22 in the world, beat world No3 Madeline Perry - for the first time in her career - in straight games to end a 16-match unbeaten PSL run by the Irish star.
Perry has been enjoying one of the best runs of her career - and last week contested the final of the women's World Series Finals in London.
But top-ranked Spaniard Borja Golan led Oxford to success with an 11-7, 11-6, 6-11, 11-3 win over Nottingham's Eddie Charlton - and team-mates Scott Handley, Mark Cairns and Ben Coleman all survived five-game battles to give Oxford their third successive PSL win.
RESULTS: Premier Squash League, 5th round
Oxford Health & Racquets 4 MB Nottingham 1
Borja Golan bt Eddie Charlton 11-7, 11-6, 6-11, 11-3
Scott Handley bt Lewis Walters 13-11, 10-12, 11-8, 7-11, 11-9
Mark Cairns bt Mark Fuller 6-11, 11-9, 11-6, 5-11, 11-9
Ben Coleman bt Declan James 3-11, 11-8, 11-8, 8-11, 11-2
Madeline Perry lost to Emma Beddoes 6-11, 10-12, 3-11
Courtcraft Pontefract 1 Benz-Bavarian Duffield 4
Lee Beachill lost to Nick Matthew 6-11, 9-11, 5-11
Neil Cordell lost to Joel Hinds 8-11, 11-3, 6-11, 2-11
Sam Wileman lost to Andy Whipp 10-12, 1-11, 2-11
Taminder Gata-Aura lost to Aqeel Rehman 4-11, 5-11, 11-8, 7-11
Vanessa Atkinson bt Jenny Duncalf 7-11, 12-10 ret.
IGT Winchester 3 TWP St George's Hill 2
Gregory Gaultier bt Tom Richards 11-9, 11-8, 11-6
Marwan El Shorbagy bt Charles Sharpes 7-11, 11-9, 11-7, 12-10
Robert Downer lost to Stephen Meads 8-11, 3-11, 11-13
Alex Phillips bt James Simpson 11-7, 11-5, 11-7
Catherine Finlayson lost to Dominique Lloyd-Walter 8-11, 5-11, 7-11
UWE Bristol 2 Team Chichester 3
Mohamed El Shorbagy bt Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan 11-5, 9-11, 8-11, 11-7, 12-10 (56m)
David Evans bt Robbie Temple 11-6, 11-9, 11-4 (20m)
Lucas Serme lost to Olivier Pett 10-12, 8-11, 9-11 (38m)
Tom Ford lost to Anthony Graham 11-9, 7-11, 4-11, 13-15 (52m)
Kip Quiney lost to Lauren Briggs 4-11, 4-11, 6-11
Integrity Surrey Health & Racquets 4 Exeter Diamonds 1
Peter Barker bt Laurens Jan Anjema 11-8, 11-9, 11-5
Adrian Grant bt Tim Vail 11-4, 11-6, 11-6
Alan Clyne bt Peter Creed 11-8, 16-14, 11-2
Peter Nicol bt James Snell 11-9, 9-11, 11-4, 8-11, 11-7
Nada Elkalaawy lost to Aisling Blake 3-11, 3-11, 11-9, 10-12
PSL TABLES (after 5th round)
|St George's Hill||5||3||2||13||12||47||43||62|
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