There was a heightened feeling of déjà vu around Lightfoot Green on Saturday as Preston Grasshoppers had to settle for their fourth losing bonus point in their last five games.
A seventh defeat in nine National League Two North games dropped them into the bottom three and left grim-faced head coach Garth Dew promising a “tough week of training” for his squad after another potential victory went begging through basic mistakes.
Yet again, Hoppers paid the penalty for giving the opposition a head start – this time being 10-0 down after the first quarter – and once more they battled back in vain.
“It’s time the lads were held accountable for their performance,” said Dew, highlighting ‘unforced, sloppy errors’ and ‘needless penalties’ which put his side back under pressure.
“If you don’t get the fundamentals right, you’re going to pay,” he said. “Every time South Leicester got into our 22, they came away with points. We seemed scared to pull away and bury them.
“We looked dangerous when we were playing off (fly-half) Lewis Allen, but when we tried different tactics, we got outmuscled.”
A major problem for Preston was the restarts. Every time they scored, it seemed they coughed up the ball from South Leicester’s kick-offs, putting themselves back under pressure. The scrum also struggled for long periods and lost two strikes against the head, and even a favourable penalty count did little except keep them in the game through Allen’s boot.
There could have been a slight question mark over the visitors’ first two tries – flanker Nick Cairns was close to losing the ball as he touched down for the first and fly-half Rickie Aley looked as if he could have been forced out of play in bagging the second – but, as so often, Hoppers found themselves with a mountain the climb.
It was credit to them that they did, with Allen opening their account with a 26th-minute penalty and then profiting from good work by centre Niall Crossley and hooker Phil Mills to break to within 10 metres of the Leicester line.
Hoppers could not immediately capitalise but stayed upfield to claim a try by prop Pete Altham, driven over the line after Matt Garrod’s line-out catch.
Allen missed the conversion, but Preston were back in it at half-time. They soon went close when winger Connor Trueman latched on to a Leicester error from a long clearance kick, but had to settle for an Allen penalty to give them the lead for the first time.
He extended the advantage to four points soon after, but it was shortlived. The visitors claimed a pushover try, converted by Aley for his only success from four attempts, but at least Hoppers were refusing to give up the fight and Allen snatched the lead again with his fourth and fifth penalties – the second awarded after Leicester flanker John McLaurin was sinbinned during a siege of the visitors’ line.
But a flowing crossfield move stretched the home defence and brought South Leicester the four-try bonus point, replacement Jacob Heath getting the unconverted touchdown.
Allen had a late chance to snatch the win with a 45-metre penalty but, in truth, it would have been rough justice on the Midlanders had it gone over.
So Hoppers’ worries continue with yet another “so near yet so far” performance – and a tough week of training ahead.