Preston Grasshoppers 24 Caldy 14
Preston Grasshoppers turned in a performance full of character and defiance in their final home game of the season.
But they will have to do it all again at Hull next Saturday to ensure their National League Two North status for another year.
But for being denied a four-try bonus point when Dominic Moon’s great late effort was ruled out for a forward pass, Hoppers would already be safe.
But Hull’s victory at Birmingham/Solihull – which virtually doomed the Midlanders – means they can still draw level with Preston if they win and score four tries next weekend, while denying the visitors a losing bonus point.
Both clubs could escape if Luctonians lose to Leicester Lions.
First, though, Hoppers should savour this gutsy victory over a Caldy side which came to Lightfoot Green in third place.
Hoppers head coach Garth Dew said: “This was an outstanding performance. The job’s not finished and the saga goes on, but this will give us a lot of confidence.
“We remained pragmatic in the week, we were confident we could defend against all threats and on the day our defensive effort was unbelievable.
“The lads put their bodies on the line and I can’t fault their commitment. We were controlled and kept clear heads. We showed how well we can control a game.
“We disrupted their line-out and got the edge up front. It’s just a shame Dom’s try was disallowed.”
Hoppers took a 14-0 lead into half-time, thanks to two tries by excellent No.8 Chris Taylor, taking his tally to seven for the season.
The first followed a line-out catch by hard-working skipper Ally Murray and a forward drive led by fellow lock Reece Tomlinson.
The second came in support of a perfectly timed run from hooker Phil Mills, who made good ground before offloading inside.
Lewis Allen, back to his confident best kicking from hand and from the tee, converted both. The fly-half almost had a try too, in pursuit of a kick-through by Scott Jordan, but referee Michael Harris spotted a push on a Caldy defender.
The visitors, too, had their first-half moments, especially when a long spell of pressure ended with an untypical knock-on by experienced scrum-half John Broxson.
Allen stretched the lead soon after the break with a penalty after centre Billy Woof had seized on a loose ball and battered his way up to the Caldy 22. And it looked all over when Allen converted a Tomlinson try
But Caldy finally rediscovered some pride and a couple of tries set up a nerve-jangling last 15 minutes Flanker Jack Collister and replacement Ben Jones both crossed the line from close range and Gareth Roberts converted both.
There were chances at either end in a tense finish. Former Fylde winger Nick Royle put a foot in touch as he went for the corner, Moon was agonisingly adjudged the beneficiary of a forward pass as he went over and the game ended with more defensive heroics from Hoppers as Caldy pressed only to be pushed off a five-metre scrum.
All to play for, then, in next weekend’s grand climax.