Preston Grasshoppers 16 Macclesfield 38
Hoppers suffered a third successive home defeat – but this time there was no consolation losing bonus point.
National League Two North leaders Macclesfield had secured their own four-try bonus point before half-time.
But a much improved 20 minutes from Hoppers after the break took them to within eight points, only for them to implode again and concede two more tries in the last 15 minutes.
Head coach Garth Dew said: “We lost the game in the first 20 minutes. If lads are going to be falling off tackles, you are going to be severely punished.
“Then we got back into the game only for us to take a silly 22 drop-out, lose possession and concede another try.
“If we had kept the tempo up, we could have got back to 20-24. To cap it all, their final try was an embarrassment.
“We have wasted the last three weeks at home. We are not capitalising on our dominance – we have the best scrummaging pack in the league and we have just out-scrummaged one of the best, but it counts for nothing if you are making silly errors.”
On the credit side, Dew said the attacking play for Hoppers’ two tries was “really nice”, and praised the work of back-rowers Andy Napier, John Mackenzie and Ally Murray, along with props Pete Altham and John Peterson and fly-half Lewis Allen.
It was the latter who got the scoreboard moving with a first-minute penalty, before hitting the post with a more difficult attempt.
But Macclesfield notched their first try after just five minutes, lock Harrison Lewis getting over after a fine run by dangerous winger Josh Fowles.
In the space of 18 minutes, the floodgates opened as scrum-half Jordan Brookes went over from a tap penalty, centre Elliot Brierley won the race in a kick-chase and No.8 Ryan Parkinson powered over from short range.
Lewis Barker converted two of the four first-half scores, while Hoppers’ only reply was a second Allen penalty.
Hoppers came out battling after the break and, after a deliberate knock-on by the defence had ended a wave of attacks, scrum-half Harry Moulding was on hand to profit from a series of drives to the line with an unconverted try – his fifth of the season.
Almost at once, Altham joined him on five touchdowns when a splendid piece of support play by the prop saw him finish off a strong run by winger Charles Hough for another try, which Allen could not convert from the touchline.
Just when Hoppers looked to be back in the game at 24-16 down, that pointless attempt at a short drop-out – when they should have been aiming to play in Macclesfield territory – was savagely punished by a try in the corner by replacement Greg Newton.
The icing on the cake for the visitors was another kick-chase try, when winger Matt King beat two defenders to the ball as it bobbled over the line.
Barker converted both late scores and, despite a prolonged series of forward drives under the posts, Hoppers were unable to narrow the gap.
So it is now four defeats in a row – three of them at home – and although Preston remain ninth, the gap to the relegation zone has narrowed to six points with seven games to play.