Preston Grasshoppers 36 – 10 Stockport
Hoppers extended their unbeaten run to five games with a bonus point victory over relegation threatened Stockport. The visitor’s recent form, and the high scoring away game earlier in the season, pointed to a close game but Hoppers won comfortably pulling away in the second half.
After the game Michael Lough said’ “it was a slow start and we can struggle against the type of team that starve you of possession, we struggle at the breakdown against this type of team and we only got into the game when we were down to 13 men, that seemed to spur us into playing tight. We were a bit complacent thinking we could run through them and lacked rhythm in the first half”
The struggle at the breakdown and lack of first half rhythm was not helped by some questionable decision making by the officials. Hoppers were two men down at one stage after Craig Aikman saw yellow just before the half for interfering with a quick tap and Phil Baines followed soon after the break for a ruck infringement, his first of the game, inside Stockport’s half. This was after multiple penalties by the visitors on their own line in the opening minutes that saw neither a penalty try nor a card.
It was after the series of try line penalties that Hoppers got their first points, after refusing the kick at goal and opting for scrums and quick taps they were able to suck in the defence and make space outside for Adam Birchall to cross in the left corner.
Stockport’s full back Steve Pearson would close the gap with a penalty as they started to find their way into the first half but Hoppers defence was a too strong. The games moment of real class would provide Hoppers with their second try as Lewis Allen gave a lovely show and go to create space for himself to break the line on half way. He was well supported by Baines, Sean Taylor and Matt Hughes, who was tackled just short of the line, before Gareth Gore smashed his way over. Taylor converted and Hoppers went into the break with a 12-3 lead.
With two men in the sin bin early in the second half Hoppers forwards showed the perfect way to play with a man disadvantage. They kept the ball tight with several good carries from Gore, Andy Irving and Mo Mustafa before Dominic Moon powered over the line from close range.
And while still one man light they secured the bonus point with a well worked scrum move as Moon and Aikman combined from the base to release Matt Hughes, who again may have been tackled just short but his smart offload back to Aikman put the scrum half away.
Hoppers forwards really grew into the game and it was their power from a line out inside the 22 that allowed space in the backs for Taylor to show his pace and glide over for Hoppers fifth try. Stockport’s Mike Waddington got a consolation try after the visitors ran a quick tap penalty in Hoppers 22, but it would be Conor Murphy who would have the final say with a late try to really put a shine on proceedings.
Even though Hoppers scored six tries this was a game won by defence something Lough was quick to relay; “We work very hard on our defence, we were very good today and it’s something we are really proud of. I think Lewis Allen is finding his feet at 10 and playing well and I was really pleased with the impact our bench made today”
Hoppers have back to back away trips to the midlands with games against Bromsgrove and Birmingham Solihull before the next game at Lightfoot Green against Luctonians on March 23rd.
Thanks once again for to Mike Craig for permission to use his excellent photographs.