Preston Grasshoppers were cruelly deprived of a losing bonus point in the final play – seven minutes into stoppage time – of a keenly fought opening game of the National League Two North campaign.
Hanging on at 20-23, they succumbed to a close-range try by experienced Sedgley Park prop Ben Black, to the despair of Hoppers head coach Paul Arnold.
“I am massively frustrated,” he said. “We could have got more out of that game. Sedgley didn’t have to work hard for their tries,” he added wryly as one of the four came from a turnover in midfield and two from line-out drives.
Arnold added: “We kicked too much ball away and that cost us a bonus point. When we make errors, we seem to compound them. We need to implement the game plan and listen to the coaches. We’ve got one of the best back divisions in this league but we’re not getting them the ball.”
Hoppers started on the back foot, spending the first 10 minutes in their own half, during which time Steve Collins kicked a couple of long-range penalties for the visitors.
Scrum-half Jake Squirrell got his team’s first points of the season with a penalty and, on 18 minutes, Hoppers took the lead for the only time in the match. Sustained pressure, with new full-back Jordan Dorrington twice involved, ended with Sloane crashing over to seal some hard graft by his fellow forwards. Squirrell converted.
The lead changed hands again 10 minutes later when Tigers hooker Tom Coe crashed over and Collins converted. With Alex Hurst in the sinbin for a high tackle, Park grabbed a second try, by centre Jack Metcalf, after a fine burst by home No. 8 Matt Lamprey ended with the ball being stripped and the visitors racing upfield to just get over by the corner flag.
Back in the fray for the second half, Hurst made a storming break to set up the position from which Luke Procter was driven over. Squirrell’s conversion cut the gap to a single point, but Hoppers next lost Sam Stott to the sinbin and, in his absence, Park got winger Jamie Harrison over in the corner for an unconverted try.
The visitors’ flanker Mark Goodman and shortly afterwards replacement James Harper were the next to see yellow cards from referee Ben Davis, whose inconsistency at the breakdown and in punishing high tackles was proving frustrating to both sides.
Tyler Spence almost got over in the corner for Hoppers after one well-worked attack but they had to settle for a Squirrell penalty to strengthen hopes of a losing bonus point.
However, it was the visitors who claimed a bonus point of their own – and the hard-earned win – when Black rounded off a last-minute line-out surge for their fourth try, converted by Collins.