FYLDE 24 PRESTON GRASSHOPPERS 25
This was a full-blooded cup tie between two old rivals that went right to the wire and provided some great bank holiday entertainment. Although league commitments put considerable pressure on both squads, two strong sides took the field and no quarter was taken or given.
Although chilly, the sun shone and conditions were good as Fylde kicked off with the benefit of a stiff breeze at their back. Hoppers’ wing Anthony Elliott enjoyed an early run before a high tackle allowed Sean Taylor to slot an easy penalty to take the lead in the 5th minute.
From the restart, flanker Will Keenan received a somewhat harsh yellow card for not retiring 10 metres at a penalty and Fylde took full advantage as they drove over from the resulting lineout, hooker Burtonwood credited with the touchdown and Chris Johnson converted.
Minutes later, having set the precedent, referee Kirkpatrick had no option but to send a Fylde flanker to the sin bin for a similar offence to equal things up.
The home side then exerted some pressure but when Hoppers were penalized in front of the posts for not rolling away in the tackle, Johnson surprisingly put the penalty wide.
It was then Hoppers turn to set up an attacking platform with two 5-metre lineouts but the second was lost and the pressure relieved. But they were not to be denied, as Lewis Allen sliced through the home defence from near halfway before putting Alex Austin in at the posts and Taylor added the extras.
The try-scorer followed up with another storming run resulting in a penalty for not releasing in the tackle and Taylor’s penalty put his side 13-7 up after 34 minutes.
The end-to end play continued and only desperate defence kept the home pack out during sustained pressure but right on half time, the ball was released for wing Curtis Strong to cross in the corner unopposed and Johnson’s kick made it 14-13 at the break.
Fylde were first on to the attack at the restart but it was their turn to lose an attacking lineout and as both sides started to ring the changes from the bench producing some shared possession in mid-field.
On 55 minutes, after a mazy run from Strong, influential home No.8 Harrison Collins, a former Hopper, made an excellent break from the back of the scrum and raced in from near halfway and Johnson’s conversion extended the lead to 21-13.
Hoppers responded as centre Jack Ward, proving a handful in the centre against his former club, made good yardage in midfield to set up an attack. The visiting pack battled away at the home line and some quick thinking by lively scrum half Sam Kindred with a tap penalty saw him burrow over and Taylor’s conversion reduced the deficit to just one point, setting things up nicely for the last quarter.
Johnson added a penalty in the 64th minute but again Hoppers reacted with Allen finding a long touch near the corner. Several forward drives were well defended before the ball was released and a long pass gave Matt Hughes the chance to go in at the corner. Taylor could not convert and then was wide with a penalty so Hoppers’ had a precarious one-point lead with 10 minutes left on the clock.
Things looked ominous for Hoppers as Fylde gained good field position from a penalty and started to set up the platform for a winning drop goal from Johnson but replacement Sam Gale stole the crucial lineout to foil the plan and Hoppers were able to keep things tight and wind the clock down to secure the win.
Current holders Hoppers now meet Sedgley Park in a repeat of last year’s final scheduled for May Bank Holiday Monday (6th) at a venue to be confirmed.