Fylde 2nd XV 12-16 Hoppers 2nd XV
Love was well and truly off the agenda at the Woodlands on Saturday lunchtime but it was Fylde whose hearts were left broken. Some would argue that St Valentine blessed Young’s men with good fortune but Hoppers showed spirit, resolve and above all real heart to grab the points with a last gasp victory.
With club legend Neil Ashton’s words of inspiration ringing in their ears Hoppers looked to maintain their position at the summit of Conference A. However they struggled to find the rhythm and consistency which has been a hallmark of their play since the Christmas break.
Credit should go to the hosts as they produced a resilient performance, giving little quarter up front whilst Charlie Hough and Matt Birkett looked dangerous all afternoon. On balance Hoppers dominated possession and probably territory but struggled to carve out the opportunities which they took at will just seven days earlier. This was as much down to execution as it was the admirable manner in which Fylde performed.
Young’s men were not helped by three injuries that all occurred in the first quarter. Mark Rigbye suffered a nasty looking ankle injury after just eight minutes whilst a hip problem forced Luke Clitheroe off. This was compounded when Kane Bevan hurt his shoulder and the visitors had already emptied their bench.
Hoppers were pretty frantic in trying to establish their pattern but nearly took the lead after twenty two minutes. Unfortunately for Young and his tyros Ward’s penalty was not successful. However eleven minutes later it was 3-0 as the young stand-off made no mistake.
The hosts hit straight back, the evergreen Martin Wallwork running a succession of penalties before Hough created some space on the right for Birkett. The winger belied his inexperience of the fifteen aside game to finish strongly. Wallwork could not convert but it was evident that this local derby would be fiercely contested to the last second.
Preston began to assert themselves with some strong running by both Sam Kendall and Cameron Robinson. Fylde defended resolutely but ultimately illegally and Ward put Hoppers ahead with a penalty on the stroke of half time.
The second half started in the worst possible way for Hoppers. They failed to put sufficient pressure on Fylde at the kick off and in typical style the hosts ran the ball, countering well. Birkett got his hands on the ball on half way and danced his way through some loose defence to score a converted try near the posts.
Kendall led the Hoppers repost and the away side were camped in the red zone. Ward had another opportunity but his kick hit the post, meaning that the score remained 12-6. He would not be denied though, as five minutes later he his well struck penalty reduced the arrears to thee points.
Fylde came roaring back and if hadn’t been for an excellent try saving intervention by Tom Hurst then Hoppers would have been staring down the barrel. Young’s men showed resilience and composure in equal measure as they cleared their lines. Their cause was further boosted when the Fylde open-side was sent to the sin-bin for one transgression at the breakdown too many.
Hoppers began to turn the screw and their pack began to assert a level of control. Fylde were not breaking out as dangerously as they had done and in hindsight they would have been minded to clear their lines. Hoppers had some great field position but spurned what looked a genuine opportunity when Wardell knocked on. Ward’s long range kick then failed to reach the target and those on the Hoppers bench began to wonder if they could pull the iron from the fire.
Time was not on Hoppers side but they created space on the left for Cameron Robinson who seemed destined to seal what would surely be the match winning score. Hoppers were denied though by a superb man and ball tackle from that man Birkett who smashed his opposite man into touch.
Fylde had the chance to clear their lines from the resultant line out but Hoppers fought gamely and remained on the five metre line. Hoppers set up what looked like a formidable maul but their hosts defended it and Hoppers appeared to have blown it. The hosts had a scrum and all they needed to do, or so it seemed, was win the ball and clear their lines.
The Preston pack rallied and turned the ball over, Holmes thought he had scored but he and his seven comrades had another chance. Hoppers retained possession from the restart and began a relentless assault, battering the Fylde line. Cool heads were needed and Hoppers patiently kept hold of the ball but it seemed as though Fylde would not wilt. Just as Hoppers looked beaten Ryan Marshall spotted a gap in the Fylde wall and darted to the line, acrobatically touching the ball down. The referee seemed to take an age but gave the try, last play had already been called and Hoppers had won. Ward made no mistake with the conversion and Young’s men had snatched the local bragging rights, just.