Hoppers let lead slip

Harrison Moulding
Harrison Moulding
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Preston Grasshoppers’ head coach Garth Dew was left frustrated after his side threw away a 10-point lead in eight minutes of stoppage time to slump to their third defeat in four National League Two North outings.

“It’s all down to game management,” he said after Caldy walked off with the spoils in a game of fluctuating fortunes.

“We were very average in the first half, then found our confidence and scored two good tries. But we stopped playing and the pack’s decision-making was poor.

“The game plan was to play in the right areas and tire them out, but we didn’t do that in the first half.

“Our decision-making has got to improve – we are not carrying out what we practice. We played some nice rugby but we have got to have some confidence.”

A fairly dour first half produced just one converted try – from close range by Caldy fly-half Jack Lavin after referee Will Halford had conferred with a touch judge. Yet Hoppers had started the more promisingly, with two early driving mauls both producing penalties which they kicked to the corner unfruitfully.

There were chances at both ends – a Caldy touchdown by Nick Royle ruled out for a forward pass and home centre Jack Ward just denied in his pursuit of a kick-through.

Gavin Roberts also missed two penalties for the visitors to leave it 0-7 at the break, despite Caldy having an extra man for 10 minutes when fly-half Mark Murray was sinbinned for a high tackle.

Hoppers came out strongly in the second period and scrum-half Harrison Moulding battled his way over on the narrow side of a ruck after a good run by Ward.

Sean Taylor missed the conversion, Ben Jones failed with another Caldy penalty and Hoppers were again reduced to 14 men when lock Reece Tomlinson was yellow carded at the breakdown.

Once more, Caldy could not capitalise and the hosts finally took the lead when sustained pressure on the line ended in a try for replacement forward Jack Walker.

Taylor converted but could not repeat the feat when Moulding grabbed his second try, darting over in the corner from a five-metre scrum.

Nevertheless, with stoppage time looming, Hoppers looked home and dry, especially when they took play deep into the Caldy half. Not so.

The hosts – who were on the right end of a 14-8 penalty count – worked their way upfield for replacement forward Adam Kelly to bulldoze over.

Lavin converted and, with Hoppers unable to close out the match – much to the bafflement of some canny former players who had attended a lunchtime reunion – full-back Andy Soutar was left with plenty of space for the clinching, unconverted, try with the last play of the afternoon.

Amid the huge disappointment, there were a few positives for Hoppers – not least that their losing bonus point took them out of the bottom three.

The line-out was again a problem area, but Walker won his coach’s praise as the pick of the pack, especially for the turn-overs he won.

Substitute fly-half Alex Zavallis-Roebuck brought some precision to his side’s play and Pete Altham made a welcome return to the front row.

Moulding capped a man-of-the-match display with a try-saving tackle on Royle.

Sadly, it was all to no avail as Hoppers prepare to tackle two tough away games in the next fortnight.