Stockport 47 Preston Grasshoppers 48
Large travelling support made their way to Hoppers’ nearest away fixture to be treated to a feast of 95 points but also some truly heart-stopping moments and play which at times suggested the pantomime season had started early.
After half an hour the visitors had the four-try bonus point in the bag at 28-8 and Stockport appeared to be looking at a damage limitation exercise.
A somewhat bemused coach Michael Lough reflected: “We have a tendency to run in a few early tries and then switch off with a ‘job done’ attitude. At least we showed heart in coming back to snatch the win.”
Hoppers’ old boy Alex Zavallis-Roebuck opened the scoring with a penalty in the first minute but Hoppers roared back and a blind side break from a five-metre scrum saw Sean Taylor touch down and convert. Straight from kick off, a Chris Gale run set up the platform for Dominic Moon to cruise over and again Taylor added the extras.
This heralded some resistance from the hosts who kept possession well and their main attacking weapon, the rolling maul, brought a try for lock Waddington on 16 minutes. But when Hoppers got their hands on the ball again, forward pressure and some good hands saw Moon complete his hat-trick, Taylor converting.
Then the wheels came off as the try-scorer was binned for a dangerous tackle before Wayne Steel joined him for a deliberate knock-on. Stockport took full advantage as prop Watson was driven over to make it 28-13 at the break.
At the restart, with Moon back on the field, there was no sound of alarm bells, but a poor reception of the kick-off, a weakness throughout this season, allowed home centre Anthony to slice through and put in Watson for his second and the kick was good. Hoppers were in total disarray and poor defence gave the hosts field position for forward drives to put in No.8 Eccles and Watson again and the conversion meant the home side took the lead at 32-28.
Worse was to come as a series of missed tackles allowed Zavallis-Roebuck to drop a goal and then convert a try from full back Fletcher to stretch the lead to 42-28.
Hoppers hit back when a long forward drive and Karl Fitzpatrick’s off-load put Adam Birchall in. The kick failed but Taylor immediately made amends by converting his own try after quick hands by the backs and then a similar move saw him complete another hat-trick to regain the lead at 45-42.
All that seemed in vain as Hoppers failed again to deal with the kick-off and Stockport reclaimed the lead with a try in the corner for centre James. Now deep in injury time, Hoppers made a desperate last attack and Taylor kept his nerve to land a penalty to give his side the narrowest of victories and take his personal haul to 28 points.