Conference A, Matchday 1: Hoppers 2’s 19 Caldy 2’s 7
The seconds matched the first team to complete a December double over the men from the Wirral. Hoppers put in a resolute rather than remarkable performance in game which saw them totally dominate both possession and territory. Credit is given to Caldy who defended doggedly at the breakdown. As a result Hoppers struggled to get the quick ball they are used to and perhaps they could have been a little more streetwise in the contact areas.
Hoppers had two early scores ruled out by the referee and struggled to make their dominance tell. However man of the match Tom Smith opened the scoring with a penalty inside the Caldy twenty-two. The visitors then saw their winger sin-binned following some reckless foul play.
Tensions between the two sides looked set to boil over and the referee would have to separate the players on several occasions. Hoppers, who had dominated the scrum, were then frustrated as the Caldy hooker left the field. As a result the set piece was now uncontested and Hoppers lost a slice of their attacking momentum.
Mike Lough’s men remained on the front foot and Smith slotted his second penalty over and the home side led 6-0. Mark Murray, who could have grabbed a hatrick then failed to control the ball when he looked certain to glide under the posts. Hoppers’ frustration was compounded when Caldy grabbed a converted try in the last piece of action before the break. The visitors won a scrum on half way and released their backs down the short side. Confusion reigned in the Hoppers defence and the Caldy winger finished with aplomb. As a result the men from Lightfoot Green trailed 7-6 at the break.
The second half mirrored the first with Hoppers camped in their opponents territory. However anxiety seemed to get the better of them and Caldy managed to repel much of what Hoppers threw at them. However the game swung the home side’s way after Lough introduced his bench. Grimes, Launders and Mahon came on for Keenan, Irving and Conway in a reshuffle which saw Berry move into the back row. Mahon’s introduction appeared to up the tempo with which Hoppers launched their attacks whilst Launders made some telling contributions in the loose.
Following a set move Murray atoned for his earlier aberration and scored a fine try under the posts. This seemed to knock the stuffing out of Caldy although Hoppers did their best to try and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In the space of 90 seconds both Ally Murray and Mark Phillips were sent to the sin-bin. The concern for Hoppers was that there were nearly fifteen minutes left to play.
In all honesty neither player could have any argument. Murray was punished for illegal use of the boot after a Caldy player had collapsed a maul that was heading for the try line. Phillips became involved in one altercation too many and was sent to the bin for 10 minutes to cool off. It was to Hoppers credit that the setbacks appeared to galvanise them as they managed to retain control of the ball and ultimately the match. Caldy transgressed at the breakdown in their efforts to try and engineer a way back into the game and Smith was able to add two further penalties which took his personal haul to fourteen points.
In other results Stockport overpowered Macclesfield whilst Sedgley Park narrowly squeaked past Chester. As a result Hoppers sit in second place in Conference A. Lough’s side can enjoy a couple of weeks off and resume action on the weekend of the 7th January 2012 when they face Fylde. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everybody, here’s to a successful 2012 for everybody at Hoppers!