Hoppers 21 Chester 22
A last-ditch try thwarted Preston Grasshoppers’ second-half comeback to see them finish in seventh place at the end of what head coach Paul Arnold described as “a belting season” in National League Two North.
He was unhappy, though, at the “lack of intelligence” in giving away a late penalty which led to second-placed Chester’s fourth and final try – a bit too reminiscent in his mind of late errors that had cost possible wins earlier in the season.
“I told them their performance today wasn’t what I expect of them now,” he said.
“But we should be celebrating the season as a whole – we’re in a good position to build from next season.”
To that end, all the squad have re-signed for the next campaign and three acquisitions have already been brought in to strengthen the squad.
Hoppers went in at the break 12-0 down and Arnold said: “There were some home truths at half-time.”
In a fractious first half the only scores both came from driving mauls from the line-out, both requiring confirmation by an assistant referee. The beneficiaries were Chester forwards Alick Croft and Mike Craven, with one conversion by James Robins.
The hosts did have chances of their own but their handling let them down. But they did manage to survive Teddy Leatherbarrow’s spell in the sin-bin for a late tackle shortly before the break.
Although Tom Davidson opened the Preston account with a penalty early in the second half, Chester quickly stretched their lead with a copycat try from a line-out, David Ford this time emerging triumphant from the bottom of a pile of bodies.
But Hoppers skipper Paul Millea emulated the visitors for a try from a line-out drive. Davidson added the conversion, but couldn’t do likewise after Matt Lamprey barrelled over from a tap penalty.
Davidson gave the hosts the lead for the first time with a penalty on 70 minutes and, when Chester centre Adam King was sin-binned, the fly-half made it a four-point lead with a simple kick.
All Hoppers had to do was run down the clock, but the task was beyond them and a needless offence gave Chester the chance to kick to the corner, mount a series of drives and get Josh Woods over for the bonus-point try. The missed conversion was the last play of the game.