Preston Grasshoppers made it five wins in a row in another high-scoring success whose only downside was that victory should have been even more convincing, writes PAUL OUTHWAITE.
Having eased to a four-try bonus point in the first half-hour, their finishing became sloppily over-confident at times yet they were still able to comfortably see off the challenge of National League Two North’s bottom club.
In all, Preston bagged eight tries, including a hat-trick from full-back Sean Taylor, who added two penalties and five conversions for a personal tally of 31 points.
That won him the man-of-the-match award yet again but coach Michael Lough was keen to stress the contribution made by the whole squad.
“We’ve got a few injuries,” he said, “but the players we called in and those who came off the bench did really well.”
Lough nominated Dan Madden as one of the “stand-out forwards” in a pack which never gave an inch in all phases of the game.
After Taylor and Huddersfield full-back Tom Owen exchanged early penalties, Hoppers cantered to a 27-3 lead on the half-hour.
A comedy of Preston errors behind their own line gifted the visitors five points, when a charged-down clearance and a dropped pass allowed replacement prop Ben Bell to collect a try.
Karl Fitzpatrick, operating at fly-half, found himself in the sin bin just before the break after retaliating to some Huddersfield interference.
But it made no difference, with Taylor adding a magical solo try from halfway, plus the conversion and a penalty in the first six minutes after the restart.
As the visitors ran out of front-row forwards and the game went to uncontested scrums, Hoppers rang the changes.
But it did little to disrupt their exciting rhythm. Josh Purnell, who had starred at fly-half in Friday night’s second-team thrashing of Fylde, came on to take the same role for the seniors and win Lough’s praise for his efforts.
A long pass from Fitzpatrick put Birchall over again, but Huddersfield responded with an unconverted try by Tom Davies before Jack Ward pounced on a delicate kick-through by Purnell for the seventh try and the inevitable Taylor rounded off a length-of-the-field move in stoppage time.
Considering the occasional wrong option and some dodgy handling in the Huddersfield 22, Hoppers know that they can’t afford such lapses against stronger opponents.
Otherwise they can be well satisfied with a victory which keeps their run going and consolidates their position in the top five.
Meanwhile, Vale of Lune collected maximum points and for the second time this season ran in nine tries by recapturing their attacking flair that had been missing when they suffered their first defeat of the season at Leigh the previous week. Manchester’s early resistance was broken when man of the match Gareth Tudor touched down after the Vale pack had driven their opponents over their line. Jimmy Moore added the conversion in the 21st minute.
Stand-off Richard McCartney kicked a penalty for the visitors three minutes later before the industrious James Curran looped around off his wing for an unconverted Vale try.
Manchester cut the Vale’s lead when centre Douglas Day blasted his way through some weak Vale tackling for a try converted by McCartney.
In a half extended by ten minutes because of an injury, Vale added three further tries from Jordan Dorrington, Andy Powers and Sam Moorby. Moore converted two of the tries.
Vale extended their 21-point lead early in the second half when Powers burrowed his way over, and shortly after coming on as a replacement, prop Josh O’Donnell, touched down.
A well worked Manchester threequarter attack ended with Day scoring a try converted by McCartney on the hour.
But Vale forged further ahead with tries from Moore and Danny Lin, both these scores being converted by Moore.