Finish in sight at last for Hoppers

Sean Taylor
Sean Taylor
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Preston Grasshoppers’ long season finally comes to an end tomorrow when they seek a seventh successive home victory as Luctonians visit Lightfoot Green for a rearranged fixture.

Meanwhile, down the road at Fylde, the latest Roses battle takes place as Lancashire host Yorkshire in their only home game of this year’s Bill Beaumont County Championship.

Luctonians, who are apparently having trouble raising a full-strength team, come to Preston in eighth place in National League Two North, with a chance to finish one berth higher if they can collect at least a point from the game.

They have won 13 and lost 15, plus a 20-20 home draw against Hoppers back in November. On the road, they have won just four out of 14, but have won their last two.

Although they have not scored freely – totalling an 11th-best 711 compared to Preston’s second-best 953 – Luctonians boast the fifth-strongest defence in the league, with 646 conceded, just 19 more than Hoppers.

The hosts are guaranteed a fourth-place finish as they seek to make it 13 wins out of 15 at Lightfoot Green. Overall, they have won 19 and lost nine, plus that draw at Luctonians.

As they bid to bounce back from Monday’s Lancashire Cup final disappointment, the Roses game again gives Hoppers the chance to let some of their youngsters gain first-team experience.

Lewis Allen will play full-back behind a threequarter line of Greg Horsfall, Adam Birchall, Ollie Farley and Anthony Elliott. Tom McGuiness starts at prop and there’s a debut for John Doney in the second row.

Lancashire’s side shows six changes from last weekend’s win at Hartlepool against Durham. There’s a wholesale change in the front row, with Fylde props Dan Birchall and Pete Altham flanking Hoppers hooker Phil Mills.

Other Fylde players – unavailable last week – to be called up are scrum-half Ryan De la Harpe, centre Chris Briers and flanker Steve McGinnis .

The bench sees further changes, with Simon Griffiths, Evan Stewart and Chris Johnson joining Tom Webb from the host club.

In addition to Mills, Hoppers have five more players in the county’s starting line-up – Sean Taylor, Jack Ward, Gareth Gore, Ally Murray and Dominic Moon, plus Phil Baines on the 

Hoppers: Allen; Horsfall, Birchall, Farley, Elliott; Fitzpatrick, Kindred; Gale, Tuff, McGuinness, Doney, Austin, Napier, Wallace, Keenan.

Lancashire: Taylor (Hoppers); Royle (Vale of Lune), C Briers (Fylde), Ward (Hoppers), A Riley; Collins (both Sedgley Park), De La Harpe; Birchall (both Fylde), Mills (Hoppers), Altham (Fylde), McGowan (Sedgley Park), Gore, Murray (both Hoppers), McGinnis (Fylde), Moon (Hoppers). Replacements: Nugent (Stade Dijon), Mark Rylance (Caldy), Baines (Hoppers) Griffiths, Stewart, Webb, Johnson (all Fylde)