Hoppers lose on opening day

Ally Murray in action for Preston Grasshoppers against Hull
Ally Murray in action for Preston Grasshoppers against Hull
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Preston Grasshoppers salvaged a losing bonus point five minutes from the end of their first game of the National League Two North season.

But they could and should have done rather better against a Hull side which showed them how to make the most of their opportunities.

Hoppers’ new head coach, Garth Dew, was left regretting a couple of “marginal” refereeing decisions which cost his side first-half tries but acknowledged that they also made poor decisions at crucial times.

“There were some encouraging moments,” he said. “And we will get better but there was a bit of ‘white line fever’ when we had chances and we didn’t finish them off well.

“Tactically, we got it right but we didn’t execute well enough. Hull showed us what 10-man rugby can do and waited for us to make mistakes and capitalised on them.”

Hoppers began well, a big hit from the kick-off bringing a Hull knock-on and an attack by No.8 Chris Taylor and scrum-half Sam Kindred which wasted a possible overlap.

Then debutant centre Tom Hurst went over after just four minutes but was brought back by the first of those marginal decisions – referee Karl Kirkpatrick ruling a forward pass.

Hoppers stuck to it, though, and took the lead with a Lewis Allen penalty for a high tackle.

It took Hull until midway through the half to get onto the scoreboard but winger Jessie Bright was able to beat two more far too easily for comfort as he touched down in the corner.

The try was unconverted but the visitors quickly added a second as a tap penalty led to desperate defence under the posts before the ball was moved wider for Jonathan Matthews to charge over.

Centre Tomasi Tamuni tagged on a long-range penalty for a 13-3 lead but Hoppers might have pegged something back late in the half following a good driving maul by the pack.

Unfortunately, as the ball was spread down the back line, the referee spotted a case of “crossing” – the second of those “marginals” – so there was again no try.

With rolling substitutions in effect this season, Hoppers sent on prop Rich Morton for his 200th first-team appearance, Lloyd Davies at fly-half and another prop, John Peterson, for his first real action in more than two years.

Another high tackle brought a successful Davies penalty for Preston but Hull regained their 10-point advantage with a three-pointer of their own as the penalty count mounted against the hosts.

Suddenly the pendulum swung the other way with a succession of infringements by Hull but Hoppers were still making too many errors to capitalise fully.

However, three successive five-metre scrums finally had their reward when Allen flashed over wide out for an unconverted try and the home fans still had hopes of pulling off a winning comeback.

It was not to be on a disappointing day when Dew said his side “lacked a bit of direction” at times despite dominating the set-piece.

There was praise for the work of Taylor in the back row and Hughes, who “ran good lines and defended well” and the coach is happy that he has a stronger squad than last season, with plenty of players in a position to put pressure on the starting XV.