Daunting challenge awaits Hoppers

Hoppers coach Garth Dew
Hoppers coach Garth Dew
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After suffering their biggest league defeat for over four years, Preston Grasshoppers face another tough assignment this weekend when they hit the motorway to Sedgley Park.

League leaders Ampthill’s 48-point margin of victory last Saturday was the highest against Hoppers since they crashed 3-53 at home to Macclesfield in April 2010. And even worse news for Hoppers fans is that Ampthill are the only side to have defeated Sedgley Park so far this season.

“Park pushed Ampthill close,” said Preston head coach Garth Dew.

“So these are a couple of hard games for us.” Hoppers then return to Lightfoot Green for back-to-back home fixtures before visiting second-placed Hull Ionians.

Sedgley Park lie third in National League Two North, with four wins out of five.

At home, they have won two either side of that 32-20 defeat by Ampthill. Hoppers have one win and one defeat away from home in an overall record of three victories and two defeats, which leaves them sixth in the table.

Mostly as a result of Ampthill’s big win, they have the fourth worst defensive record in the league (minus 26) while Sedgley’s tally of 197 points scored is 102 more than Hoppers’.

Park lost 29-24 at Lightfoot Green last season but had a comfortable home win, 39-14.

Dew’s use of a squad system to provide impact off the bench sees John Peterson and Phil Mills start in the front row, with Brad Tuff and Richard Morton among the replacements.

Chris Taylor returns at No.8 and there is a debut at centre for former Myserscough student Billy Woof, who has also played for Birkenhead Park and Caldy, with Jack Ward on the bench.

There is an interesting 
‘M6 derby’ in North One West when Vale of Lune head for Penrith. Both have won their last two games and only two bonus points separates them, both having won three and lost two.

Fifth-placed Penrith have won two out of three at home following relegation from National Three North.

They currently boast the best defence in One West, having conceded just 63, but have only four bonus points to Vale’s six.

Tomas Moreira comes in at prop for Vale, with Ross Pillow on the bench, and Alex Baines returns to the back row but brother Dan is out with a shoulder injury.

Fylde break new ground in National League One with a first visit to young Gloucester club Hartpury College, which is associated with the University of the West of England.

Hartpury have made a rather strange start following promotion, winning both their away fixtures but losing their first two at home before a victory there last week – against Esher, the only side to beat Fylde to date.

Combined with just two bonus points, that leaves Hartpury in seventh place.

Fylde are third after four wins out of five, plus five bonus points. They have won one out of two on the road.

Mark Nelson’s back division has a settled look, but there will be a late decision in the back five, depending on Gareth Rawlings’ recovery from injury.

Either he or Sam Beaumont will partner Paul Arnold, with Joe Robinson also in the mix for a back-five role.

Adam Lewis returns at prop after injury, with John Wild on the bench, where forward Dave Fairbrother returns after being away with the Navy.

Kendal still top the league after five straight victories – three of them at home – and will strongly fancy their chances when Wigton come to Mint Bridge.