Sedgley Park 2s 19 Hoppers 2s 25
The second team have given themselves a fighting chance of winning the Bateman Premier League after a long overdue victory against league favourites Sedgley Park. The afternoon sunshine was perhaps more of a spectacle than the game itself but Mike Lough’s men travelled back up the M61 full of heart and perhaps a sense of relief that they finally managed to get one over their rivals.
Sedgley started the brighter and Hoppers seemed a little flat so when Lamprey went over in the corner it seemed like Hoppers might be in for a difficult afternoon. However Hoppers profited from a turnover in midfield and Matt Hughes fed young Lewis Allen who crossed the whitewash. Smith’s extras went wide but the scores were tied at five points a piece.
Hoppers then began to get a foothold in the game and Russ Flynn’s game ending hit on the Sedgley number 13 seemed to visibly lift the blue and whites. Smith slotted a penalty over on the twenty-two and Hoppers led 8-5. The Preston pack then launched a driving maul from a line-out and the Sedgley forwards transgressed thus giving Smith the chance to slot over the penalty.
The hosts hit back and scored down the right hand side, their try coming as a result of another big carry from Lamprey. Hoppers found the number eight hard to put down all afternoon and he represented Park’s principle threat. The conversion was successful and the hosts led 12-11 but Hoppers had a chance to retake the lead with a penalty. Unfortunately Smith pushed his attempt wide. Hoppers then conceded a daft penalty which saw them pushed deep into their own twenty-two. Sedgley set up a line out drive which Hoppers defended well but after a series of pick and drives that man Lamprey burrowed over. The conversion was good which left Hoppers trailing 19-11 at the break.
As the second half got under way it seemed as if Hoppers would once again fall short as they were turning the ball over at crucial times and struggling to create any clear cut chances. This was, in part due to Sedgley’s defensive work around the breakdown and more frustratingly Hoppers trying to force the play when patience was required. But then Hoppers got a break as Matt Hughes reacted sharply to intercept a loose pass, finishing from fully seventy metres out. At one point it seemed that the Park full-back would cover the danger but the Welshman put on the afterburners to finish. Smith added the conversion and Hoppers were well and truly back in it.
Hoppers were then forced to re-organise as Chris Lowden went off with a neck injury. This put added pressure on the Hoppers set-piece which had struggled all day. However the Hoppers pack continued to compete manfully with their bulkier opponents and remained intent on pushing their rivals all the way. Sedgley were looking to put the game to bed and were seeking what would surely be the decisive score. The hosts looked to release their backs but Tom Smith read the move and intercepted on half way before touching down under the posts. He duly converted his own score and Hoppers led 25-19. The Sedgley players looked shattered but there was plenty of time left in what turned out to be a fifty minute half of extremely tense rugby.
Hoppers looked to camp themselves in the Sedgley half in order to consolidate their lead. The impressive Allen looked for a repeat of his drop goal from last week but his attempt dropped short. Credit to Sedgley Park as they looked for what might be a match winning score with Lamprey doing his best to win it on his own. However Sedgley’s attempts to force the play proved fruitless and they spurned at least one overlap in the process. Hoppers had held on for a hard fought victory against a team who’ve had something of a hoodoo over them in recent seasons. This might explain the scenes at the final whistle; relief and joy from Hoppers in contrast to shock and disbelief from Sedgley.
Hoppers now have three league games remaining, starting with a home fixture against Stockport next Saturday. Enjoyable as yesterday’s result was, it will mean nothing if Hoppers fail to pick up maximum points next time out so the focus immediately switches to Stockport who be intent on avenging last week’s narrow loss.