Preston Grasshoppers produced the most resilient of defensive displays to grind out a hard fought win over Harrogate, despite being down to 14 men.
Harrogate will wonder how they didn’t capitalise on the man advantage, and were 6-0 up from the boot of Lewis Minikin before Pete Altham was given his marching orders by referee Chris Bennett, for an apparent punch on Benjamin Reaveley.
The sending off, if anything, instead galvanised Hoppers and two late penalties from full back Sean Taylor saw the sides head in for half time level on points.
Harrogate tried to get back in front straight from the kick off for the second 40, as two drop goal attempts from fly half Callum Irvine went wayward for the visitors.
They continued to build pressure in Hoppers’ half, and squandered a number of attempts to use the extra man overlap to their advantage.
What followed was dogged defensive work by the hosts, who held up a couple of tries themselves to keep Harrogate at bay.
Hoppers had two periods of play in Harrogate’s half, and capitalised on both. The first saw Billy Woof charge down a kick causing Harrogate to regather in an offside position, with Taylor converting the resulting penalty.
They then gained possession after the ball had spilled out by their own try line, and pressure from Scott Jordan when chasing his own kick led to a penalty for his side, which Taylor again sent over the posts.
Hoppers continued to somehow prevent Harrogate from crossing the line, and held on to secure a well-deserved victory.
Hoppers head coach Garth Dew said after the game: “Obviously I think the red card affected us early on, we lost our heads a bit.
“But then we got back in at half time and said ‘look, just relax, if we play this a certain way we can grind it out,’ and the defence was unbelievable.
“We played it perfectly, what we said at half time was, the more we stay in the game, the more they lose their heads.
“So we walked the lineouts, slowed the game down and we frustrated them.
“We got a bit of luck because they butchered a couple, but overall it was great heart and obviously I’m very proud of everyone.”
On the red card to Pete Altham, Dew added: “I didn’t see it, but I think Pete’s just had a moment of red mist and he’s apologised to the officials and we’ll deal with that and leave it there.
“In a strange way I think it galvanised the lads. I think up to that point we didn’t seem interested, once he went off there was a complete shift in attitude.
“One to twenty put their bodies on the line, Sean Taylor showed his class and he was the difference.
“We really put our bodies on the line. It’s a complete transformation from last week’s very disappointing away result.
“We look to end the season on a high now and secure a mid-table finish.”
Preston Grasshoppers 12-6 Harrogate