By Gavin Hughes
With months of anticipation finally behind them, the Quidditch Premier League’s (QPL) four Northern teams came together on July 1 at Platt’s Field Park in Manchester to test their mettle. Did it live up to expectations? Did the pundit predictions come to pass? And how might this affect the next fixture?
Northern Watch 70 – 110* Yorkshire Roses
East Midlands Archers 40 – 190* West Midlands Revolution
Northern Watch 160* – 90 East Midlands Archers
Yorkshire Roses 30 – 250* West Midlands Revolution
Yorkshire Roses 60 – 110* East Midlands Archers
Northern Watch 90* – 160 West Midlands Revolution
Standings after Fixture 1:
1st – West Midlands Revolution – 3W
2nd – Northern Watch – 1W
3rd – East Midlands Archers – 1W
4th – Yorkshire Roses – 1W
West Midlands Revolution
From the moment the rosters were first released, the assessment of the West Midlands was near unanimous: they would be the team to beat. Sure enough, at this opening fixture they defeated all three opponents out of range, including a blowout against the Yorkshire Roses.
Drawing a number of players from Velociraptors QC, Warwick Quidditch Club, and the Team UK squad, the Revolution’s pre-existing chemistry was clear from the outset of their first match against the East Midlands, alternating between the Warwick quaffle line’s slick passing game, helmed by Seb Waters, and a well-timed Velociraptors press, led by the likes of Lucy Quidditch and James Thanangadan, that resulted in numerous turnovers and a high conversion rate on the counterattack. This latter, cavalier style of play allowed one the QPL’s current top scorers, Tom Stevens of the HogYork Horntails, to really flourish with 13 goals, as well as his pace and agility on the counter more than justifying his recent inclusion in the UK’s European Games squad. The Revolution also showed dominance in the beater game, reflected in their 68 percent overall bludger control statistic, particularly against Yorkshire, where the Revolution beaters managed to completely neutralize the Roses’ physically imposing quaffle lineup.
The closest challenge the West Midlands Revolution had throughout the day was their final match against the Northern Watch, who kept them in SWIM for much of the game. An early double yellow card for Lucy Quidditch had a noticeable impact and stopped the Revolution from running up a large point differential through pressing until late in the game when the Watch’s beater depth started to wane and the likes of Emily Hymers and Jacopo Sartori could capitalize. Nevertheless, the Revolution’s victory remained a somewhat dampened one, as the Watch caught the snitch to deny them a coveted clean sweep of catches and maximum point differential. Showdowns between these two teams are likely to be the North’s most interesting fixtures in the future.
Picking weaknesses in a team that conceded only 13 goals across three matches may seem like an exercise in futility, but it’s worth noting that one of the very few situations where the Revolution looked truly vulnerable was when a team successfully negated their press. Against both the Archers and the Watch, on more than one occasion the Revolution were caught too far up pitch and allowed their opponents a lob pass to an unmarked player by the hoops. It’ll be interesting to see whether the other teams can further exploit this at the next fixture. Another potential area for improvement for the Revolution is the utilisation of their non-male chasers; Molly Maurice-Smith’s goal against the Watch was the lone goal for a non-male player. Overall, however, this remains an outstanding start to the season, and the Revolution will surely feel confident that they can make a bid for the inaugural QPL title.
Coming into the fixture as strong second-favourites, the Northern Watch will be disappointed with their SWIM–range defeat to the Yorkshire Roses, but should take heart from their confident victory over the East Midlands Archers and a valiant effort against the West Midlands Revolution.
Since the league was first announced, there have been fears that the enormous size of the Northern Watch’s recruitment area (ranging roughly from Bangor to Aberdeen) might work against them in terms of training and developing synergy. In their first match against the Yorkshire Roses, these fears were proven correct. For the first half of the game the Watch looked disjointed, playing like a merc team, while the well-drilled Roses were organised on the defence, sitting a bludger deep and stymieing the Watch’s weakly supported quaffle drives. However, a 12th-minute timeout and a rousing team talk from former Team UK coach Ash Cooper changed the momentum of the match, with the Watch clawing the score back from 70-10 to 80-70 by the time the seekers were released. A quick snitch catch by Yorkshire’s Valentin Trabis stopped the Watch’s nascent comeback, but a longer game could have seen a very different result.
In their later matches, the Northern Watch appeared to settle into more of a rhythm, with their wealth of powerful quaffle drivers such as Elliot Fisher, Fraser Posford, and Ollie Bridgen finally hitting their stride against the East Midlands. It is a testament to their impact that the Archers’ lynchpin and Team UK captain Bill Orridge was forced to abandon beating and come on as keeper. Despite Orridge’s enormous presence and five goals to his name, the Watch demonstrated their tactical flexibility and killed the game’s tempo long enough for Posford to make a crucial snitch catch. A similar theme continued into the West Midlands matchup, as Northern Watch players went toe–to–toe with the Team UK elite and surprisingly often came out on top. Particular mention should go to Edinburgh’s Nye Baker and Jack Murray, who staved off some of the UK’s finest beaters for lengthy periods of time, and to Gabriela Arriagada Bruneau, whose movement and finishing as a receiver was emblematic of the Watch’s smooth final third passing game. Where the Watch lost out against the Revolution was arguably in squad depth and chemistry, with fatigue revealing gaps in the team’s cohesion that the Revolution was able to exploit once the snitch was on pitch. A tactical cold catch by Connor Climo spared the Watch from the larger deficits inflicted upon the Archers and Roses by the Revolution and also served to highlight the Watch’s impressive depth at seeker.
Despite the setback of the defeat to the Roses, the Northern Watch should be cautiously optimistic about the season ahead of them. With all three other teams in their division already playing much closer to their full potential, the Watch’s slow start could conceivably give way to a podium challenge by the playoffs, as the team become more familiar with each other’s playing styles and surmount their geographical disadvantage over the course of the regular season.
East Midlands Archers
Even though they only secured one narrow win over the course of the weekend, a late comeback against the Northern Watch and occasional flashes of brilliance against the West Midlands Revolution suggest that the East Midlands Archers could be angling to cause upsets later in the season.
The Archers had the dubious honour of being the first team to brave a matchup with the highly touted West Midlands Revolution, but despite the lopsided score they can take some positives from their performance. Receivers Emily Arnold and Katie Dickens embarrassed the Revolution defence by slipping totally unmarked behind the hoops, and Keiron Bishton proved to be a stalwart keeper, his last-ditch defending ensuring the score wasn’t even higher. A decisive factor was the incredibly one-sided bludger game, with the Revolution holding control for around 14 of the match’s 20 minutes, thus neutralizing some of the biggest names on the East Midlands roster, such as the talismanic Bill Orridge and the experienced Nottingham Nightmares duo of Rachel Lily and Brandon Fitz-Gerald.
The game between the Archers and the Northern Watch was more closely fought and was the only game in which they maintained roughly even bludger control with their opponents, thanks to the efforts of Bill Orridge and his younger brother Mikey, a veritable quidditch wunderkind. However, the physicality of the Watch’s quaffle game pushed Bill Orridge to don the green headband as keeper, and at this point the Archers’ bludger control started to slip, allowing the Watch to slow the quaffle game down and focus on seeker play. While Bill’s individual performance as keeper was highly impressive, with a number of pinpoint-accurate long shot goals that nearly dragged the game back into SWIM, it revealed a potential overreliance on his star power that resulted in a one-dimensional attack.
The Archers did, without a doubt, improve as the day went on. The presence of six different players on the scoresheet against Yorkshire suggests that they recognized their heavy dependence upon Bill Orridge in the previous game and diversified their offence, while an early snitch catch from the lightning fast Steve Withers demonstrated their ability to seize opportunities in SWIM situations, so perhaps it was fortunate for their opponents that they were kept out of range in the previous two matches.
Looking forward, the Archers should be hoping to continue their streak against the Yorkshire Roses, and potentially snatch second place away from the Northern Watch; challenging the West Midlands Revolution for first seems a tall order for now. If they earn a favourable playoff draw through their regular season performance, the Archers could be considered a serious dark horse. Casting doubt onto that aspiration, however, is the unavailability of the Orridges for the Nottingham fixture. At their best, Lily and Fitz-Gerald could potentially fill their places, but we’ve yet to see them reach their peak for the East Midlands Archers, whose bludger control statistic is languishing as the second poorest in the QPL so far, ahead of only the Eastern Mermaids. As the season progresses, we’ll see if the Archers can continue to improve and perhaps by the playoffs really challenge the top teams.
Many observers wrote the Yorkshire Roses off due to the notable lack of any Team UK players on their roster, but an upset win over the Northern Watch and a SWIM loss to the East Midlands Archers demonstrate that they have a serious chance of continuing to defy expectations as the season continues.
The day couldn’t have started any better for Yorkshire. Nobody favoured them to beat the Northern Watch, especially in light of their decisive defeat 140*-20 at Steel City Cup the previous weekend. However, while the Watch began complacently, the Roses immediately had their heads in the game, with early goals from the Sheffield Squids’ Valentin Trabis and Claire Brand setting the tone. Indeed, regular season club synergy appeared to be Yorkshire’s greatest asset, with HogYork Horntails beaters Phil Brown and Lily Dommart jointly controlling the bludger game, sitting deep within their own defence to halt the Watch in the final third, where they had been so clinical at Steel City Cup.
Even without a huge amount of bludger support on the attack due to Yorkshire’s defensive beater tendencies, Leeds Griffins’ quaffle driver Josh Armitage remained a major goal threat, both against the Watch and the Archers, and even scored twice against the Revolution, accounting for two-thirds of the Roses’ goal output in that game. Armitage’s place as a primary ball handler also freed up Sam Atkinson as a receiver around the hoops, a position his size and strength allowed him to excel in, particularly against the East Midlands Archers, who often struggled to contain him. Yorkshire will surely feel their match against the Archers could have gone either way, particularly with a swift SWIM catch against the Watch already under their belts.
The West Midlands Revolution match was Yorkshire’s poorest game, reflected most strikingly in the fact that the West Midlands held bludger control for 73 percent of the game, making it impossible for Yorkshire to utilize the deep defensive bludger game that’d served them so well against the Watch and the Archers. This also laid bare another of Yorkshire’s weaknesses. Although they fielded a number of powerful physical players, often the Revolution’s pace and the passing manoeuvres left them flat–footed and unable to actually connect with the huge tackles they’re capable of. This is reflected in the fact that Tom Stevens, Seb Waters, and Luke Trevett, three players renowned for their agility, each scored five times against Yorkshire. Another weakness the Revolution exploited was Yorkshire’s comparatively slow resetting of the defence in response to counterattacks, as was also witnessed in the latter half of their match with the Northern Watch. A possible factor in this was that their most effective point defender, Josh Armitage, was also responsible for nearly half of their overall goal tally, and an even larger number of their offensive opportunities. Overdependence on his ability to score hero runs left him out of position when attacks broke down and they needed him on point to halt the counterattack. If they can more effectively use their off-the-ball chasers in the future, Yorkshire’s vulnerability to counterattacks may diminish.
On the whole, however, the Roses can be pleased with their showing at the first fixture. The only reason they lie at the bottom of the table is due to point differential, and with transferrable team chemistry from the regular season allowing them to quickly reach their peak performance, Yorkshire could continue scalping giants if the other teams don’t settle into a rhythm as the season progresses.