Hoppers 5th’s travelled away to Bolton 4th’s in the cup this week looking to build upon last week’s thrilling draw which ended a run of 4 defeats. The teams confidence is building with every training session and every game and the fact we had 24 players for an away cup match shows the desire of this squad to turn around the poor results from the start of the season.
Bolton were not struggling for numbers and had a large and balanced squad at their disposal. Bolton’s big pack lined up on the half way line and their equally sizeable number 10 (looking every bit the prop and wearing a number 3 shirt) kicked off the game.
Bobby Parker took the high ball well and immediately made a mazy run up the field dodging the rampaging Bolton forwards, Hoppers pack, welcoming back much needed doggedness from Coach Shadwell, were as much up for the game, supporting, clearing out and setting up clean ball for Ben “10” Markland to distribute to the ever-present Chris Nuttall and returning Ben Young who powered in a couple of good hit-ups from centre.
The ball was whipped out wide to last weeks man of the match Reece Rowland, who is that quick off the mark that he was found isolated on the wing and turned over with no support. Ernie Gegieckas stole a Bolton line-out and a maul was formed gaining Hoppers some territory with great work from Fleming, Singleton and Thom Imm. When the ball finally got out, another Ben Young crash ball somehow turned into Young grabbing Gegieckas and using him as a human shield trying to take on the Bolton defence, not surprising, the referee deemed this as crossing and a Bolton penalty was awarded.
Missed tackles in the Hoppers back line resulted in Bolton making a break, but a superb chase from wing Wes Bradford saved Hoppers blushes as the Bolton centre knocked on when brought down. With Bolton’s forwards building up the pressure, turnovers won by Nuttall and Parker followed by fantastic defensive kicks from last weeks D.O.D Thomas Davies (sober and focused for a change) put Hoppers back up the field. A high tackle on Rowland missed by the referee and a slight lack of focus from the Hoppers defence nearly gifted Bolton a try, but a fantastic cover tackle by Davies gave Hoppers a penalty after the Bolton player was ruled to be holding on. Poor communication shortly after the penalty and the ball ended up back in Bolton’s hands and a crash ball from the large Bolton 10 (assisted by sloppy Hoppers defence) gifted Bolton their first score of the day, conversion missed, 5-0.
A Hoppers maul from the impressively hardworking pack complete with newly introduced Andile Kalane, set up a platform to work from, but Bolton’s crafty tactics slowed the game down. Bolton’s 8 ran at the Hoppers defence and ran through 4 tackles making his way towards the posts, but great defensive awareness from Alex Wright, Imm and George Wrona forced an unintentional turnover from the resulting ruck which was ruled illegal by the referee and a Bolton penalty was given. The kick for goal was missed and the half ended just in time for Hoppers to regroup and go again.
Half-time Bolton 5 – 0 Hoppers
Fresh legs and new tactics from Bolton at half-time brought them in for an easy try shortly after the restart. A missed conversion put the score at 10-0 Bolton. An immediate attempt at more points from the kick-off was made, with the Bolton back line clear on goal and only denied by a dropped ball. Markland and Fleming making big runs up the field but lacking support at vital opportunities denied Hoppers their first points of the day. Substitute Alistair Lockheed was taking his chance well and showing what a player he could be with some powerful drives and intelligent play. Bolton’s backline looking somewhat more youthful and speed orientated in the second half showing what simple passing and hands down the line can do, gaining massive ground into hoppers territory.
With the Hoppers bench singing his name to the tune of “My Sharona”, George Wrona did not disappoint and was impressive in disrupting the ball and bringing down Bolton’s attackers along with substitute Gary Douglas and 80-minute prop Shadwell.
Substitute Paul Freeman, making two massive tackles and supported by Fleming and Wright, gave Hoppers a chance to keep the Bolton score low and with Bradford and T-Bag trying their best to put points on the board, Hoppers were rallying to pull off a late upset.
The revival was short lived to say the least, forward pods starting to wane with tiredness and backs passes starting to find the ground more than hands. Hoppers found themselves on the back foot and after a dropped ball, heads went down and Bolton were in for an easy try. First successful conversion of the day, Bolton 17-0 up.
From the restart, a couple of rucks and pick and go’s from Bolton were eventually turned over and Thomas Davies, who’s kicking was on target all day, kicked and chased 80 metres down the field pressuring the Bolton fullback, unfortunately overzealousness took over and Davies pushed the Bolton man before he had touched the ball.
More tired passing from Hoppers late in the game gifted the substitute Bolton number 10 the ball and he set off down the field with goal line fever, unfortunately he weaved and paced his way to the line for a 90m try. The conversion preparation ritual (taking longer than half time) was finally slotted over and ended up being the last kick of day.
Bolton 24 – Preston Grasshoppers 0
Many choices for Man of the Match after a good team display, Ernie, Flemo and Alex Wright tirelessly working throughout and Ben Markland organising Hoppers game well at 10, ultimately man of the match goes to Thomas “DJ” Davies for a complete turnaround from last week and working his socks off at fullback, well deserved.
D.O.D, picked by injured player/foghorn Luke Jackson, was Captain Mick Mortimer, I can only presume Mick was chosen as the whole team played well and no-one deserved it, the captain must take one for the team!