Hoppers 20 Stourbridge 17
After the previous Saturday’s trouncing, Preston Grasshoppers turned the clock back to the more familiar territory of close finishes – their fifth such outcome in eight games this season.
Off to a flyer, they came dangerously close to throwing away all their good work, but finally scrambled over the finishing line thanks to a late penalty from Jake Squirrell.
But even then, they still had to survive an anxious moment when Stourbridge had a line-out in the corner, but badly overthrew it to allow Hoppers to run down the clock.
“We need to be a bit smarter,” said head coach Paul Arnold. “We had put a lot of pressure on ourselves with three defeats on the bounce, but for the first 35 minutes we did everything right, especially in terms of defence and discipline.
“Then for the last five minutes of the first half, we gave away good field position and again put pressure on ourselves. That’s what happens when kicks go wrong. But the lads are learning as they go along and there were a lot of good performances.”
Ryan Carlson was again a tower of strength in the back row, but Arnold also picked out lock Sam Wallbank, centre Ben Dorrington and wingers Jacob Browne and Scott Jordan.
The visitors had the early advantage in possession and territory but a storming run by Matt Lamprey took play to the other end, where a couple of cross-kicks by Joe Prior posed problems. But skipper Paul Millea broke the stalemate on 13 minutes, following a fine run by Prior, and Squirrell added the conversion.
Desperate defence at the corner kept out Stourbridge hooker Jack Lea before Hoppers increased their lead, thanks to a strong burst by James Fitzpatrcik and a long pass to Scott Jordan who went over in the corner for an unconverted try.
A line-out drive brought the third try, finished off by Luke Procter and converted by Suirrell for an impressive-looking 17-0 scoreline.
But Hoppers started kicking away possession rather aimlessly and the visitors snatched two mirror-image tries in the last five minutes of the half through Dan Rundle and Noah Howard. Afeafe Haisila converted the second to bring his side back within five points.
After the restart, Haisila missed a penalty but levelled the scores with an unconverted try.
Hoppers still looked most likely to snatch the victory, but squandered chances until they were awarded a penalty at a scrum under the posts and decided to let Squirrell take the three points on offer rather than re-scrumming as they had done just previously.
They still had to survive that late scare when Ryan Purcell was yellow carded and Stourbridge went for broke by kicking the penalty to the corner.
Much to the relief of the home fans, Hoppers stole the ball at the tail of the line-out and managed to hold out for a third win of the National League Two North campaign which lifted them a couple of places to 10th.