Hoppers ready to roar against Tigers

Richard Morton
Richard Morton
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Preston Grasshoppers go into tomorrow’s home game against old North West rivals Sedgley Park Tigers with a triple boost from last weekend’s fixtures.

Hoppers will be encouraged by their performance at National League Two North promotion challengers Ampthill last Saturday, when they collected a valuable bonus point in a 17-22 defeat after what head coach Garth Dew, pictured below, called “a hugely committed performance”.

Meanwhile, Hoppers second XV were demolishing their Sedgley counterparts 32-6 in a Bateman Premier League top-of-the-table clash at Lightfoot Green.

And Park’s own first team were going down to a surprise 17-22 home defeat by 13th-placed Birmingham/Solihull.

Tomorrow’s fixture is followed by successive away games for Preston and then a home date with second-placed Hull Ionians, so it’s another challenging spell. But Dew is hoping his side will take confidence from last week’s display and the previous Saturday’s second-half demolition of Stockport.

Sedgley come to Lightfoot Green in sixth place, following 10 victories, a draw and eight defeats. Away from their Whitefield home, they have won three, drawn one and lost five, but have the third-best scoring record in the league, running in 567 points.

Hoppers have won four out of 10 at home and six out of 19 overall, but they felt they could have won at Park in September, when they went down by an agonising 31-33.

Preston won last season’s home game 29-24 before losing 14-39 away. They have 13 bonus points to the Tigers’ 11 and remain 12th, but there is wide scope for movement in their part of the table with just seven points separating the seventh and 13th-placed sides.

Scott Jordan returns on the wing for Hoppers and Alex Zavallis-Roebuck is pencilled in on the bench after missing last week’s game through injury.

There are rearranged fixtures for Vale of Lune and Kirkby Lonsdale in North One West, while Kendal have a Saturday off.

Widnes head for Lancaster to replay a game which was abandoned in November due to a serious-looking injury. The visitors lie fourth after 10 victories and six defeats.

Away from home, they have won three and lost five, including defeat at leaders Birkenhead Park last Saturday.

Ninth-placed Vale are bidding to end a run of six straight defeats – and two successive home defeats - as they host a side which did the double over them last season; Widnes won 18-10 at home and 13-10 away.

Vale have won five out of eight at home this term but have only six wins out of 16 in total.

There’s little to pick between the sides’ scoring records – Vale have 380 for and 359 against while Widnes have scored one more point and conceded 17 fewer – but the Lancastrians have the edge in bonus points, 14 to 10.

Vale will select from a squad of 19 – all last week’s starters and replacements, plus the returning Ian Bird. He is among six threequarters in contention.

Second-placed Kirkby Lonsdale visit Broughton Park, who are eighth, in a fixture postponed from December 13.

Fylde seek an 11th successive home win in National League One, when Hartpury College make their first visit to Ansdell and provide them with their second student opposition in successive games.

Fourth-placed Fylde’s unbeaten home record contrasts starkly with their away form – just two wins anda draw in nine outings – but one of those victories came at Hartpury earlier in the campaign, where they won 32-24.

Tomorrow’s visitors may be down in seventh place, 16 points behind Fylde, but they are on a bit of a roll, winning their last six games and their last three away fixtures. That has taken them up from 10th place at the beginning of last month.

In total, they have won 11 out of 19, with six victories and three defeats on the road. Unfortunately, they have collected only eight bonus points, 10 fewer than Fylde.

Fly-half Chris Johnson is missing from the home line-up, having picked up a one-match ban for three yellow cards, so Richard Kenyon steps in. Mark Rylance starts as hooker and Dave Fairbrother returns to the back row after a two-month injury lay-off, with Tom Burtonwood and Ben Vernon switched to the bench.

Hoppers: M Murray; Jordan, Russell, Woof, Baines; Allen, Kindred; Madden, Mills, Morton, Tomlinson, Banks, A Murray, Napier, Taylor. Replacements: Tuff, Mabaya, Lees, Zavallis-Roebuck (or Moulding), Reddick.

Vale (from): Weeks; Birchall, Dorrington, Macluskie, Bird, Owens, Lamberton; Lomas, Swarbrick, Dobson; Hesketh, Powers, McLaren-Dorrington, Pillow, Baker, Foxcroft, A Baines, Garnett, Wallbank.

Fylde: Spragg; Dorrington, Briers, S Rawlings, Brennand; Kenyon, de la Harpe; Birchall, Rylance, Lewis, Arnold, G Rawlings, Robinson, Fairbrother, Stewart. Replacements: Burtonwood, Vernon, Lavelle, Goodman, Bedlow.