Hoppers’ best yet says coach

Action from Hoppers' win against Stourbridge (photo: Steve Beattie/Hands Beattie Photo)
Action from Hoppers' win against Stourbridge (photo: Steve Beattie/Hands Beattie Photo)
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Preston Grasshoppers extended their unbeaten run to five games with what head coach Garth Dew described as “our best performance in the last two seasons” in beating Stourbridge 29-18.

In the course of it, they completed the double over Stourbridge, who came to Lightfoot Green in second place in National League Two North.

“We’ve said we’re building something and that proved it today,” said Dew.

“They caught us out early on, but we reacted well. Once we realised we had to keep our width, Stourbridge didn’t have a lot of penetration. Our defence is right up there with the best in the league.

“I’m proud of the lads. There is real confidence in the side and we are turning the corner. There’s a bit of experience getting involved – several of us have 100 games at National League level – and players like Will Lees and Andy Napier in the back row are putting their bodies on the line every week.

“John Peterson put in a good shift at the scrum in his first game for a year and, with Alan Holmes, Pete Altham and Oga Mabaya, there aren’t a lot of teams who are going to give our front three problems.”

After an early exchange of penalties between full-back Sean Taylor and Stourbridge fly-half Rod Petty, the visitors lived up to their pre-match billing as promotion challengers with an unconverted try by winger Nathan Bressington, partly thanks to rare missed tackles at the start and end of an attack from halfway.

Fifteen minutes later, a driving maul by Hoppers from the Stourbridge 22 saw No.8 Ally Murray claim a try which Taylor converted.

The full-back then missed an angled penalty but succeeded with a simpler effort after more good driving play by the home pack.

But it required some heroic Hoppers defence to keep the score at 13-8 at half-time.

Petty missed another penalty, while Taylor made no mistake from wide out, before experienced Stourbridge lock Robbie Hurrell was sin-binned by referee Callum Sharpe.

While he was off the field, Taylor added two further penalties – the second when Stourbridge centre Joe Heatley was also yellow-carded for preventing quick ball, after a scorching break by scrum-half Harry Moulding had taken him within 10 metres of the line.

Hoppers were unable to take further advantage of 14-man Stourbridge, who actually managed a score of their own, scrum-half Toby Handley getting over after a driving maul.

Petty missed the conversion but being restored to 15 men did the visitors no good, as they fell 16 points behind.

A crunching tackle by Dew, on as a replacement, jolted the ball loose and Murray was on hand to cap a powerful performance by picking up and galloping over with 10 minutes left.

Taylor converted to give him 19 points in the game, then became the third player to be sin-binned.

But, though Stourbridge mounted a late bid to salvage something from a game in which they were definitely second best, they could only manage a close-range try by replacement Connor Nicholls.

Petty rounded off an unhappy afternoon with the boot, by missing the conversion as Hoppers started the celebration of a well-deserved victory to make it three wins and two draws in the last five.