Preston Grasshoppers salvaged a third successive losing bonus point, thanks to Lewis Allen’s late penalty. (writes Paul Outhwaite)
But this was by far the worst of their three recent defeats in National League Two North, coming as it did against a Luctonians side battling against relegation and cock-a-hoop to leave Lightfoot Green with five invaluable points.
It was a Hoppers performance that left head coach Garth Dew embarrassed” and “very frustrated” due to what he described as “a complete lack of game management”.
Hoppers handed Luctonians the perfect start, conceding 10 points in the opening six minutes, before clawing their way back to a halftime lead.
But they managed just two successful penalty kicks in the second period and conceded two tries in the last 10 minutes to raise fears that they would get nothing at all out of the game until Allen rescued them in stoppage time.
“We completely went away from playing in the right areas,” said Dew. “After looking very dangerous in the second quarter by using our width.
“There were poor kicks, poor kick-chases and it was poor to have that amount of scrum dominance and do nothing with it through giving the ball away.
“We have got to learn the lessons and there will be a lot of honesty during the coming week. I have already told them that some individuals have to hold themselves accountable for this loss.”
In a dramatic start. scrum-hald Sam Whyte was first to threaten for Hoppers with a half-break, ruined by a knock-on, before missed tackles allowed the visitors’ winger, Josh Watkins, to race over from his own half. Scrum-half Louis Silver, who directed play effectively throughout, landed the conversion and quickly added a penalty.
A break by Scott Jordan took Hoppers to a position from which Allen landed his first penalty; then good work by Will Lees saw the hosts back in Luctonians’ territory, where Jordan scrambled over from a quick tap penalty.
Allen added the extras, but Silver edged his side ahead again with another penalty.
Hoppers were looking much more dominant at this stage and good handling put Allen away for their second try after a scrum on halfway.
The full-back could not convert but soon kicked a simple penalty for an 18-13 half-time lead, although Luctonians thought they had got winger Joe Doyle over for a try until he was called back for crossing.
Hoppers rang the changes either side of the break and it seemed to disrupt the earlier dominance of their pack. Dew explained the switches as trying to keep players fresh for a later return and to keep up the intensity.
However, it was Luctonians who upped their game again, centre Will Burton being awarded an unconverted try after a kick through and referee Will Halford’s confirmatory check with his touch judge.
Allen and Silver exchanged further penalties to keep the scores tied, but the visitors struck two killer blows in five minutes, with unconverted tries in the corners by Watkins and Doyle to secure the bonus point.
Just when all looked lost for Hoppers, up stepped Allen to land an angled penalty and bring them within losing bonus-point range as the clock ticked down.
So all their efforts were not totally wasted, but they know they will have to step up several gears next Saturday when league leaders Macclesfield come to Preston.