Preston Grasshoppers 21 Harrogate 12
Preston Grasshoppers chalked up a vital victory in the dogfight in the bottom half of National League Two North to lift themselves 11 points clear of the relegation zone with five games left.
But they will be less than happy with a second-half performance which saw them fail to score a single point, let alone the one try which would have brought them a bonus poin.
At 21-5 at half-time, everything looked rosy for Hoppers against a surprisingly subdued Harrogate side, given that they sat sixth in the table.
But, batter away as they might after the break, the hosts were unable to add to their three first-half tries as their handling and ball retention fell away badly.
Head coach Garth Dew said: “It wasn’t a pretty win, but it’s four points at the end of the day.
“We scored some decent tries but I was surprised by our handling in the second half – we didn’t get into our patterns and our attacking play wasn’t brilliant.
“It was a strong team performance, though, and I was pleased with our defence.
“Teams will find it hard to beat us if we defend like that.”
That home defence was to the fore very early on, with two Harrogate breaks down the left well covered, before Hoppers’ first attack had the Yorkshiremen scrambling back to thwart Phil Baines’ kick ahead.
But Preston were soon on the scoreboard, a great break by Ally Murray from Scott Jordan’s feed sending Andy Napier over for a try, converted by Lewis Allen.
The fly-half pushed a 30-metre penalty wide and, on the half-hour, Harrogate hit back with an unconverted try from a line-out by flanker Kerry Wood, a couple of plays after Hoppers had mysteriously opted to take a scrum near their own line rather than clear the ball through a 22 drop-out.
Undeterred by this self-inflicted setback, they scored a line-out try of their own, man of the match Murray grabbing a rebound and charging through virtually untouched.
Allen again converted and repeated the act on the stroke of half-time after referee Karl Kirkpatrick awarded Hoppers a penalty try as they went for a close-range pushover.
That looked to have set the stage for a second-half romp, but, despite all their subsequent dominance, Preston’s error count mounted alarmingly – their best efforts ending when Scott Jordan was forced into touch at the corner and when Allen was unable to find John O’Donnell cleanly with his pass following a five-metre scrum.
In the end, it was Harrogate who managed the last score of the game, breaking the stranglehold to camp in Hoppers territory in stoppage time and themselves win a penalty try as they pressed on the home line. Joe Rowntree converted.
All in all, a welcome win for the home fans after three successive defeats and some encouraging glimpses of form going into the final run-in.
Murray had a mighty game, as usual the rest of his pack put in a hard-working shift and the backs performed their defensive duties admirably.
There remains a feeling that Hoppers can deliver a truly destructive 80 minutes at some stage - but there are still errors that need to be cut out.