Macclesfield 2nd XV 18 Hoppers 2nd XV
Hoppers fluffed their lines on Saturday afternoon as the win which would have sealed the Bateman Premier League title evaded them. Saturday’s match was another tight and tense affair, in fact the three matches between the two sides have been decided by a grand total of seven points.
Preston started the better and dominated the early exchanges before Macclesfied came back into it. Smith had a penalty from 35 metres that just dropped short and Hoppers’ early pressure counted for nothing. Shortly after Tom Grimes chased down a probing kick from Allen and touched down in the corner. Unfortunately for Hoppers the referee ruled it out as he could not be sure that the ball had been grounded.
Macclesfield then took the lead with a penalty from just outside the 22 metre line and if Hoppers had any hope of winning they needed to be more clinical. Lough’s men were soon in front though as Conway made a fine break before putting Lewis Allen in space. The young stand-off finished well and Smith added the extras. Hoppers immediately capitalised as they launched a scintillating attack straight from the restart. Keenan was prominent and the move was finished off by Anthony Elliott. Smith added the conversion and all of a sudden Hoppers were 14-3 ahead.
Credit to Macclesfied as they came back strongly but Hoppers repelled everything that their hosts threw at them. Hoppers retained their lead until half-time but Ally Murray’s hamstring gave out and he was replaced by Mark Irving.
The visitors started the second half the stronger but the match was to change when the Macclesfield loose-head succumbed to an injury. The Hoppers front row enjoyed superiority over their counterparts all afternoon but the injury meant that the game would continue with uncontested scrummaging. Unfortunately Hoppers seemed to lose momentum and they struggled to carve out the opportunity which would have surely brought them a match winning score.
Macclesfield then got themselves right back into it as they drove over a five metre line out, the conversion went wide but Hoppers lead was now 14-8. Then, with five minutes to go Macclesfield’s full back broke from his own half and the home side scored in the corner. With the conversion Hoppers were now 15-14 in arrears and the rug had seemingly been pulled from Hoppers title aspirations. The men from Cheshire rubbed further salt into Preston’s wounds as a needless penalty was conceded which the Macclesfied stand off duly slotted through the posts. To their credit Hoppers tried to chase a match winning score but could not break down the Macclesfield defence. Lough’s men had lost in the league for the first time since Caldy put them to the sword back in winter.
Hoppers frustration at the final whistle was tempered by news of the first team’s fantastic demolition of Otley at Lightfoot Lane. Things got even better for Lough and company when news of Sedgley Park’s surprise defeat to Stockport filtered through. Whilst Hoppers demolished Stockport 83-12 just a few weeks ago the result shows just how competitive the upper reaches of Conference A are.
As a result Hoppers title destiny is firmly in their own hands, should Hoppers beat Chester next weekend they will be champions. If they slip up then either Macclesfield or Sedgley Park will need to finish the season with two substantial wins in order to overcome Preston’s vastly superior points difference. Whilst Saturday’s result was a setback they retain their position as leader of the pack and eagerly await the chance to prove that Saturday’s reverse was a mere blip. The squad eagerly looks forward to ending their season in style back at Lightfoot Green this weekend.