Preston Grasshoppers made it three wins in a row after a sterling defensive performance throughout and some astute tactical awareness in the closing stages of a challenging game.
Birmingham/Solihull came to Lightfoot Green in fifth place in National League Two North and with a decent away record. But they were never able to get their noses in front, despite dominating territorially for much of the afternoon, and came close to a bigger defeat, with two Hoppers “tries” ruled out for forward passes.
Preston coach Michael Lough said: “Our defence was exceptional, with great commitment, and I was particularly impressed by our first half performance. We had to scrap it out a bit in the second half, but the way we played forced them to make mistakes.
There was particular praise for lock Ally Murray, who “led from the front and provided a steadying influence”, but hooker Phil Mills had another fine game in a scrum which looked like it might struggle early on, but gradually got on top of a sizeable pack.
Hoppers began in style, with Killian Wallace, another stand-out performer, picking up from a ruck and feeding Sean Taylor, whose deft inside pass put Conor Trueman over for a sixth-minute try, converted by Lloyd Davies.
A long spell of Birmingham pressure produced nothing but a simple penalty by Jack Jolly, thanks to Hoppers’ resolute tackling close to the line. And, when Preston did break the territorial stranglehold, Mills was only denied a try by Taylor’s forward pass.
It was 28 minutes before Hoppers were awarded even a free kick, but a couple of minutes later they won their first penalty, which Lloyd Davies popped over for a 10-3 lead.
They had other chances before the break, but a brilliant 50m run by Taylor came to nothing and then they gave away an interception after winning a Bees line-out inside the visitors’ 22.
Hoppers squandered another possible chance and it looked like it might be costly, as the Bees swarmed back onto the attack and replacement Jordan Onojofie was driven over from close range.
Jolly missed the conversion and Davies responded with an easy penalty after both he and Sam Wallbank had been held close to the line.
With the exception of Lewis Allen for concussion victim Trueman, Lough had been reluctant to use his replacements as “the team that was on the pitch was playing really well”.
But he sent on experienced scrum-half Craig Aikman for the final 15 minutes and he and Davies cleverly closed down the game with some accurate, deep kicks to keep the visitors on the defensive.
That in turn allowed Davies to stretch the lead beyond one score with a well-taken drop goal.
He couldn’t land a mid-range penalty after a great scrum by Hoppers, but the home side almost had the final say when Lewis Allen was sent clear by Jack Ward’s marginally forward pass in the last act of a hard-fought and well-earned victory which moved them up to seventh.