Preston Grasshoppers 31, Sedgley Park Tigers 36
For the second game in succession, Preston Grasshoppers had to settle for two bonus points in another close finish.
But unlike the previous week, when they lost to a last-minute try, it was Hoppers who had to pull the game out of the fire and secure the losing bonus point with a late penalty.
Head coach Paul Arnold admitted to mixed feelings after a patchy performance in a match that saw nearly 20 minutes of stoppage time.
“It felt like we never came out of the blocks in the first half-hour,” he said, after having to start and play the full game due to lock Adam Howard’s illness. “We gave them a massive start, then did well to get back into it.
“I was disappointed with our attitude in the first half – we gave them too much respect. But it’s not all doom and gloom – I’d have taken nine points from our first four tough fixtures.
“Overall, Sedgley deserved the five points, but I am proud that we can compete with sides like them.”
An area of particular irritation was Hoppers’ ill-discipline, with too much backchat costing them dearly in position and possession. And Arnold accepted his full share of responsibility for reactions that fell foul of referee Ben Davies: “I am really frustrated with myself,” he said.
Hoppers were pinned in their own 22 from the kick-off and conceded three penalties in four minutes before hooker Danny Maher found a huge gap in their defence for a try converted by Olli Glasse.
An alert charge-down by Tyler Spence gave them a foothold to hit back immediately and Scott Jordan benefitted from slick handling to go over for a try converted by Tom Davidson. But the next 25 minutes were all Sedgley.
A charge-down at the other end allowed hooker Alex Ashcroft to grab an unconverted try, then former Fylde player Maher found another gaping hole for his second score before setting up one for Glasse, who converted both.
Winning their first penalty after 25 minutes, Hoppers at last built some momentum, and James Gough was held up over the line before James Fitzpatrick found room to scramble over after a five-metre scrum, with Davidson adding the conversion.
Arnold’s half-time pep-talk certainly seemed to do the trick as Preston raced from a 14-26 deficit to a 28-26 lead in an impressive 20-minute spell which also included some near misses, thanks to the visitors’ tigerish defence.
Paul Millea bagged a try from another five-metre scrum and Sam Stott did likewise to secure the four-try bonus point. Davidson converted both, but by then Hoppers had seen Jordan stretchered off with an ankle injury.
Park retook the lead with man-of-the-match Maher’s hat-trick touchdown, converted by Glasse, who added a penalty after Fitzpatrick had been yellow-carded for a raised elbow.
Four minutes into the 11 minutes of stoppage time, Davidson salvaged the losing bonus point with a penalty.
The game ended in rather unsatisfactory fashion when the Tigers, who had been struggling at the second-half scrums, ran out of front-row forwards through injury and were able to nullify Hoppers’ increasing edge by going to uncontested scrums. The result dropped Preston down a place to 11th in National League Two North.