Hoppers 2s 83 Stockport 2s 12
Mike Lough could not have scripted the day any better as the title momentum swung firmly into Preston’s favour. Not only did they overpower and overrun a brave Stockport outfit but they received a welcome boost from up the M55.
Hoppers dominated the early exchanges and were intent on dispatching a Stockport side who just two weeks previously had run them extremely close in a tense and nervy match down in Bramhall. Tom Smith, who helped himself to thirty-three points, opened the scoring with a penalty after Stockport transgressed at the breakdown. Preston were making all the early running before Anthony Elliott exposed some gaping holes in the visitor’s defence to dance through from fifteen metres out. Smith added the extras and Hoppers had opened up a 10-0 lead.
Stockport were then turned over in their own half and Hoppers spun it wide to centre Harry Reddick who ignored the waiting Russ Flynn before eluding four would be tacklers for a converted try. Dan Fletcher then exploited a mis-understanding in the Stockport defence to gallop home from twenty metres out and Hoppers led 24-0. As the teams turned round Stockport were still in the game but Hoppers stepped on the gas and a big scrum on the five metre line saw Elliott power through following a planned backs move. Hoppers were then caught dozing and some poor defence saw the Stockport winger score in the right corner. The home side led 31-7
Lough’s men hit back immediately though with another planned move from a scrum. An inside ball allowed Flynn to charge through leaving defenders trailing in his wake. Smith again added the conversion and the league leaders were 38-7 in credit. The match was probably sewn up and rumours started to filter through from the Woodlands that basement boys Fylde had turned over title favourites Sedgley Park. Hoppers began to open up and Stockport’s resolve was broken whilst they had also suffered from a couple of major injuries. Purnell was the catalyst to a break from the Hoppers twenty-two and the home side put the ball through the hands, culminating in Russ Flynn diving over. Smith again added the two points before getting a try of his own, which followed a big gain from that man Flynn. The men from Lightfoot Green had a more than healthy 52-7 lead and the Sedgley result was confirmed. Hoppers were now intent on improving their points difference as it might be a crucial factor in deciding the destination of the Conference A championship.
Ally Murray, who enjoyed another fine game led a break from deep and Elliott got his hat-trick with a converted score. Hoppers kept the pressure on and were turning the ball over with increasing regularity. A line-out steal saw Sam Kindred score his first try since joining the club a few weeks ago. Murray then got a try of his own after Hoppers drove from the line-out, the surprise being that Smith did not add the conversion on this occasion.
Credit to Stockport who stuck to their task and turned Hoppers over, the result being a deserved consolation try in the right corner. Lough’s tyros weren’t finished yet and Tom Grimes (home for the Easter break) finished off another fine piece of interplay. The last word went to Smith as Hoppers won another line out and launched an attack from inside their own twenty two. The centre strolled home and converted his own try leaving the final score at 83-12 to Hoppers.
So a pretty much perfect afternoon for the second team as they consolidated their position at the top of the league whilst vastly improving their points difference. The added bonus being Sedgley’s shock defeat up at struggling Fylde. Hoppers title chances are now firmly in their own hands but in two weeks time they face an extremely tough trip to champions Macclesfield. The men from Cheshire still have an outside chance of retaining their title and will be dead set on pulling the rug from under Hoppers’ feet. Hoppers have beaten Macc twice this season but each match went to the wire, winning by a point and then two points respectively.
Before the league is decided Hoppers have a Raging Bull cup semi-final to negotiate. Easter Saturday sees them travel down the M61 to old foes Sedgley Park. Sedgley will be desperate to knock Hoppers out and avoid a third successive defeat. Park’s first team do not have a fixture so the men from Whitefield will have stronger pool to choose from whilst they will be hoping for a healthy crowd. The banter has already started on the social network sites and the match promises to be another exciting encounter.
Loughy’s lads would appreciate as much support as possible to cheer them on, hopefully to finals day. The first team enjoy a week off so anybody who fancies popping down then please do so as it would really boost their chances.