Chester 2nd XV 30 Hoppers 2nd XV 34
The second team maintained their grip on first place of the Bateman Premier League with a hard fought and nail biting victory over a powerful and extremely spirited Chester side.
Victory was vital for Young’s men as they sought to bounce back from last weekend’s frustrating defeat against second place Caldy. Makeshift second-row and part-time Laureate Terry McGuire issued a stirring rallying cry on Friday afternoon and his prose would have done Henry V or even Winston Churchill proud.
Just five minutes into the game and it seemed like McGuire’s eulogy had done the squad the world of good. Young’s men started brightly, putting their hosts under early pressure. Some strong play from Anthony Elliott resulted in the returning Josh Thundercliffe bulldozing his way over the Chester line. Allen pushed his conversion wide but the stand off was heavily involved in the second Preston try which came soon after. Chester made a mess of the Hoppers scrum but Sam Gale managed to break deep into home territory which led to quick ball for Allen whose well executed cross kick was finished by Elliott. Hoppers had built a healthy 12-0 lead and despite being forced into a number of changes they looked cohesive and strong.
The home side managed to apply some pressure and the Hoppers penalty demons began to strike again. Young’s men were pinged for not rolling away despite repeated warnings from the referee and the Chester stand off made no mistake from 22 metres out. But Hoppers soon struck back when Allen fizzed a flat pass to Ollie Yates who cut a delicious line through the Chester defence. Yates rounded the full-back to score under the posts and Hoppers led 19-3. Chester were then guilty of needless backchat to the referee and it gave Allen the chance for a simple three points, the young play maker made no mistake and the visitors led 22-3.
Chester finished the half the stronger and a penalty just before the break seemed to galvanise them. Despite leading 22-6, the stoppage did Preston no favours and Chester came firing out of the blocks in the second half. Chester’s pack began to put their significant weight advantage to good use and reverted to a simple pick and drive game. The home side retained the ball well, taking few risks along the way and despite their best defensive efforts, Hoppers were struggling to turn the ball over. Shortly into the half Chester got a real foothold into the match and their outside centre took advantage of some slack defence to ghost under the posts for a converted score.
22-13 quickly became 22-20 as the Chester forwards took control, their pick and drive replicating Caldy’s approach from seven days earlier and leading to a try on the left hand side. There was some respite for Hoppers as they managed to work their way back into the Chester 22 but unfortunately Allen pushed his penalty wide.
This setback seemed to spur Chester on and Preston’s cause wasn’t helped when flanker Jonny Doney was sin-binned for an infringement at the breakdown. Chester kicked to touch and their pack made Preston pay, mauling the ball all the way to the line before scoring a deserved seven-pointer. The home side were now ahead, applying relentless pressure on the men from Lightfoot Green.
Fortunately for Hoppers a speculative drop goal attempt drifted wide but worse was to follow for Young’s men as a succession of short drives created a opening for the Chester full back who made no mistake in the right corner. Chester had scored 24 unanswered points and Hoppers were in real danger of losing successive league games for the first time since the 2010-2011 season. As Hoppers gathered under the posts they looked a beaten team and for the first time this season Young was forced to take his hairdryer out of its holster.
Credit to Hoppers though as the chastening they received appeared to focus their efforts and they visibly lifted the quality of their play. Man of the match Napier led his men deep into Chester territory and the pressure began to take its toll on the home side. Hoppers ran a penalty and knocked on but made no mistake a minute later as Mark Murray evaded several tackles to score on the left. Allen failed with his conversion but had pulled the arrears back to 30-27 with under five minutes left.
Tcup, or thinking clearly under pressure is something Hoppers regularly replicate in training and despite Young’s telling off smashing the proverbial china, Preston were able to keep their heads and work their way back into Chester territory. More importantly they were able to keep the ball and Allen was able to engineer an overlap for Andrew Pollock. The young winger kicked into space with the dead ball area beckoning but was foolishly impeded by a retreating Chester player. The referee took his time before awarding a penalty try. At first glance Hoppers appeared to have been fortunate but on reflection Pollock was denied a clear try-scoring opportunity. Allen added the extras and Hoppers were able to close out the last minute of play for a nerve-jangling 34-30 victory.
Chester’s players were devastated at the end and will no doubt use the result as motivation when they visit Lightfoot Green in next weekend’s Raging Bull Cup quarter-final. Hoppers will have to raise their game by then as Chester’s big pack and straightforward game plan caused them some uncomfortable moments. Hopefully Young’s squad will be strengthened by a number of returning players including Cameron Berry, Alex Austin, Dan Fletcher, Ian Sibbit and Kilian Wallace.