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Cheltenham secure dramatic defence of men's 2016 Super 5s title

Cheltenham retained their men’s 2016 Super 5s title after a dramatic final weekend at Sheffield’s Ponds Forge.

City of Manchester were the in-form team going into the weekend, having won the Division One title with an 100 per cent record then bagged four wins in their first five men’s 2016 Super 5s matches; a 7-4 defeat to Lancaster in their opponents’ back yard on 9 January the only blot on their copybook.

But with Lancaster and defending champions Cheltenham awaiting in their final two matches, Manchester knew one slip could let either rival back into the title chase.

Lancaster ensured the race came down to the final day as they stunned their Northern rivals on Saturday, clinching a 10-8 (5-2, 1-0, 2-3, 2-3) victory with goals from Stefano Cossutti and Graham Harrington settling a smashing game after Manchester had scored four unanswered goals to tie the match at 8-8 in the final quarter.

Cheltenham took advantage and put the fate of the title in their own hands as they moved two points clear of Manchester with a 23-7 defeat of Bristol.

There was more drama in the opening game on Sunday as Invicta sprung a surprise to spoil Lancaster’s title hopes with GB international Jack Waller scoring six – including a pair of memorable back-handers in the pit – as the London side emerged 12-11 winners.

A winner-takes-all clash between Cheltenham and Manchester ensued in the final match of the men’s 2016 Super 5s, and it was the former who walked away with the trophy after a nervy 5-5 (1-1, 1-1, 2-1, 1-2) draw.

“We’ve attacked more effectively than we have defended for much of this season but fortunately we shut Manchester out really well in the final period,” – Cheltenham coach James Ross.

The match came down to the wire, with Joe O’Regan leveling terms at 4-4 mid-way through the final period.

But with both sides pushing for the decisive goal, O’Regan’s GB teammate Jake Vincent reclaimed Cheltenham’s lead with 43 seconds left on the clock.

And while Aaron Winstanley responded to draw Manchester level again in the last 15 seconds, Cheltenham held on to retain their crown.

Cheltenham coach James Ross said: “I think perhaps we missed four or five chances in the first quarter and the nerves set in a bit after that.

“We’ve attacked more effectively than we have defended for much of this season but fortunately on this occasion we shut Manchester out really well in the final period.”

Image credit: Trevor Hyde / British Water Polo League