Fylde 33-17 Preston Grasshoppers
There may have been only ‘three more sleeps to Christmas’ but nothing was as eagerly anticipated as this return fixture with our long term rivals. After a successful, close-fought encounter at Lightfoot Green, Hoppers were looking to continue their run of form with a second victory over Fylde and consolidate their position in the top half of the league.
Sadly, although they had been ‘good boys’ throughout the season, there was no festive cheer and only a lump of coal in the Christmas stocking this year.
In marked contrast to last week’s weather, Fylde kicked off in pleasant winter sunshine and a slight breeze. The pattern of the game was established straight away with Hoppers struggling to gain possession and their hosts moving the ball through extensive phases as they attacked in the visitors’ half and at the five minute mark only a ‘brick-wall’ charge down from James Fitzpatrick on his own 5m line prevented an early try for Fylde.
The scoreboard was not troubled for eighteen minutes as both sides battled to get the upper hand when after yet another period of sustained passing by Fylde, their winger Bailey broke free and crossed the line with ease. The conversion was good and the score with a quarter of the match gone was 7 – 0.
From the restart Hoppers at last gained the ball and moved it through several phases gaining precious metres inside the Fylde half. Their persistence was rewarded with a penalty on their hosts’ 10m line. Tom Davidson stepped up and stroked the ball goalwards only for the curse of the kicking gods to strike again as the ball glanced wide off the post.
Hoppers struggled to secure the ball at the lineout as the taller Fylde forwards won possession time after time. It was a similar story in the scrum where they were unable to dominate as they have done throughout the season thus far and whilst they held their ground, there were only meagre pickings for Lamprey and Gough to trade on.
On the half hour, with Hoppers for once pressing the Fylde line, a series of good handling moves was broken by an intercepted pass which then enabled the Fylde backs to run the length of the field and score their second try. The conversion was good and Hoppers were 14 – 0 down.
With their lineout not working and little possession, Hoppers managed to see out the half without further damage and the half time whistle came without any further score.
As the sun went down and the floodlights came on, Hoppers restarted the match with a change of full back, Cave giving way to Hurst.
Again, the ball remained in Fylde hands as the Hoppers forwards fought to gain ground. With five minutes gone Coach Arnold had left his seat in the stand and was pacing the line, urging his players on.
Almost inevitably, a third Fylde try came just six minutes into the half and with the successful conversion, Hoppers were 21 – 0 down with over half an hour to go.
Hoppers restarted and finally won a lineout on their own 22. A kick from Davidson pushed them up towards the half way line and a scrum on the Fylde 10m line. Fylde again won the ball and fought their way back to the Hoppers’ 22 but then a break from winger Tyler Spence saw him romp down the field to the opposition 22 and deliver the ball through several hands before Hoppers were awarded a penalty. Davidson found touch on the Fylde 5m line, and from the lineout the forwards mounted a concerted attack on the Fylde line. At last they were rewarded as James Fitzpatrick burst over the line inside the corner flag. Davidson sent the ball over from a difficult position wide on the wing and Hoppers were back in the game at 21 – 7.
Elation for the travelling supporters was short-lived however, as from the restart the Fylde forwards pressurized the Hoppers’ line and an attempted clearance from Davidson was charged down enabling the Fylde number 5 to run in their bonus-point try. The conversion missed but the score moved on to 26 – 7.
The game resumed the battle for possession with both sides gaining ground in turn. Hoppers found themselves on the Fylde 20m line where they were awarded a scrum. With Lamprey taken down in a tackle and a penalty given, the visitors had a lineout on the opponents’ 5m line.
This time the ball was won and the Hoppers’ forwards found their footing, driving towards the line with a momentum the Exeter Chiefs would have been proud of. They crossed the line and when the pile of bodies got up, Oga Mabaya was the man with the ball. The conversion failed but Hoppers were again back in the game.
Boosted by their success, Hoppers began to keep possession and moved the ball through several phases, pressurising the home defence inside their own 22m line. A series of handling moves and penalties saw them camped in the Fylde 22 and on the seventy- third minute, replacement Alex Ward scored the third try.
With the score at 26 – 17 and the ball in their teams’ possession, the Hoppers’ supporters could be forgiven for contemplating a losing bonus point but these thoughts were quickly swept away as, with clock in the red, Fylde scored their fifth try and the final score was 33 – 17.
After the match Coach Paul Arnold was quick to praise his side,
‘I was proud of the way the whole team kept their discipline and fought back. Our defence was really good and the lads did so well to come back from that early Fylde lead. The game turned on small margins, a charge down, an interception. The best team won and I give them credit for that. We lost this one but we must not take anything away from a really great twelve months. After a shaky start, half way through the season we are eighth in the league with forty five points. We have a well-earned break for Christmas, will train again on the third of January, and take on Huddersfield on our own patch.
I want to thank the supporters and wish one and all a great Christmas and New Year.’
With that sentiment echoed throughout the club we close the first half of the season and look forward to renewing the campaign on the fifth of January.