Table tennis: Underdogs steeled for their mission improbable
PAUL Steele is hoping to pull off one of the greatest giant-killing acts in Sentinel Cup history by helping Bradwell A beat all-conquering Norton A to lift the trophy.
Norton have won every encounter they have ever had with Bradwell in league and cup, and go into Tuesday's final hoping to pick up their 13th Sentinel title on the spin.
Their 58-year-old captain Brian Johns is ranked second in English players over-50 and they sit top of the Potteries Premier Division on course for another championship triumph.
But Bradwell have an ace in their pack in Paul Myatt.
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Myatt, with 32 wins out of 35 this season, is just ahead of Johns in the league averages and has the best winning ratio of anyone who has played more than three games.
Captain Steele said: "Paul is having a really good season.
"If he can have a really good night on Tuesday, and myself and Gareth Dunn play out of our skins, then there's a chance we can produce a shock.
"We can't afford any of us to be anything other than at our absolute best, and then hope they have a bit of an off night.
"We are going there with confidence, even if we know Norton are favourites and we have never beaten them at any level, cup or league. There's got to be a first for everything."
Bradwell have home advantage after Norton said they would prefer to play at their Silverdale base than switch to a neutral venue.
Steele, from Porthill, was grateful for anything that could play into his side's favour as he admitted to being in awe of his opponents' long list of honours. The 53-year-old said: "You have to admire their consistency. They keep turning up year after year just as determined to win as they ever were.
"We all might hope they get bored, but I think they are trying to set records that will never be broken. They are going the right way about it if that's the case."
Burslem were the last team to defeat Norton in the Sentinel Cup, winning 5-3 thanks to a stellar display by Craig Bakewell in the 2000 final.
Johns has rarely lost a game since joining Norton about eight years ago, and he captained the team to cup glory again against Wordcraft 12 months ago.
It has been a similar story this campaign, although he did succumb to three defeats while suffering from flu.
Norton have a squad of four ready for the showpiece, with Johns joined by Potteries League powerhouses Mark Evans, Dave Savage and Russ Boone.
The skipper said: "We had to concede one match because we had players on holiday and we had a hard game against our own B team, but Bradwell haven't really stretched us.
"We have won the Sentinel Cup and the league every year since I joined and I want that to continue."
Johns, who has played veterans doubles matches alongside Myatt, admitted there were chinks in his armour, but hoped they would not be big enough for Bradwell to exploit.
He added: "I am 58 now and I've just dropped down to second in the England over-50s. I'm still keeping up there, but I need to be fitter.
"Paul Myatt is a good player. I shouldn't really lose, but I suppose you never know what could happen on the night."