Preston Grasshoppers well beaten by Fylde in Lancashire derby
Hoppers 3 Fylde 28The faithful came to Lightfoot Green in their hundreds for the latest instalment of local rugby rivalry.
But there was little comfort and joy for Preston Grasshoppers supporters as their side slumped to a seventh defeat in their last eight games.
And it wasn’t hard for the packed crowd to see why Paul Arnold’s men are struggling near the foot of National League Two North while their neighbours are riding high in second place.
Just one try and 19 points in their last four outings tell their own story as Hoppers regularly failed to put away excellent scoring chances with a combination of spilled ball, forward passes and needless turnovers.
Head coach Arnold said: “We were 21-3 down at halftime despite having 60 per cent of the possession. Three errors gave them three tries.
“We created enough chances to show what we can do, but there were too many small individual errors – basic handling mistakes and wrong options.
“The heart and effort are there but we’ve got to be more accurate and clinical. We were trying to play in the wrong areas of the pitch and they punished all our mistakes. We should have put pressure on them when we were only 7-3 down.”
Fylde, on the other hand, made sure they took their chances and picked up a four-try bonus point to keep themselves four ahead of third-placed Sedgley Park, who have a game in hand.
The tone of the game was set with early knock-ons, a lost Hoppers line-out and a scything run by winger Tom Carleton – “a thorn in our side all day,” said Arnold – which set up the position for hooker Ben Gregory to be driven over for a try converted by Greg Smith.
Tom Davidson missed a couple of long-range penalties for the hosts, but was successful with an easier attempt when scrum-half Adam Lanigan was caught offside.
But, instead of kicking on, Hoppers continued to rack up the errors and two tries in four minutes took Fylde well clear.
Carleton made it to the line after another incisive run and referee Ben Davis awarded the try after confirming with his assistant that the winger had not been held up by a swarm of defenders.
And Carleton was at it again soon afterwards and this time found Connor Wilkinson in support for the full-back to claim the third try.
Smith converted both and, if Hoppers headed for the half-time inquest wondering how they were 18 points down, the answer wasn’t hard to find – at least two more gilt-edged chances going begging through poor handling.
The second half followed a similar pattern, despite Fylde struggling to breach a dogged defence.
Smith opted for a couple of failed long-range penalties, when kicks to touch might have given his side a chance of the bonus-point try. But that eventually came with less than 15 minutes to go; inevitably, it was Carleton who provided it after another Hoppers attack broke down and Fylde went almost the length of the field.
Smith converted and the home side’s day was aptly summed up when substitute Ben Dorrington spotted a glorious interception chance but could not quite control the ball.
There was a bit of a ‘Boxing’ Day flavour to the game with a couple of brawls involving several of the players. And forwards Oga Mabaya (Preston) and Dave Fairbrother (Fylde) both found themselves in the sin-bin in the last quarter.
This is an encounter which is in danger of not being repeated in 2020 as Fylde press for promotion and Hoppers battle against relegation, now 12 points from safety.