Hoppers 21 Tynedale 5
Preston Grasshoppers made it four wins in a row – and moved a couple of places up the National League Two North table – in a game which head coach Paul Arnold said provided “more positives than negatives”.
If that sounds rather harsh after such a commanding victory, it has to be said that, with a little more precision close to the line, Hoppers could have comfortably picked up a four-try bonus point.
“Overall, it was really pleasing,” said Arnold. “We talked before the game about discipline and defence.”
And his side delivered, keeping Tynedale pointless until the last five minutes and conceding just seven penalties all game. They dominated the first 40 minutes territorially, with the visitors only crossing the home 22 once.
Arnold said: “We had all the possession in the first half, but our final decision-making let us down a bit.
“We talked at half-time about tightening things up and keeping our defensive effort going. Our game management needed to be a bit better.”
Tynedale, who had been stripped of the ball close to the corner on their only venture into Hoppers’ 22, came out more strongly after the break, but Arnold said: “We didn’t panic and there were a lot of small things that were really pleasing.
“Tom Davidson controlled the game well, James Fitzpatrick was outstanding and it was good that the whole squad got 20 to 25 minutes on the ptich. Ryan Purcell and Noah Miller had great games and we are lucky to have so many props to pick from with Oga Mabaya out injured.”
Given Hoppers’ domination of the first half – and scrums in particular – it was remarkable that they had only two Davidson penalties to show for their efforts.
But a lot of that could be put down to the number of turn-overs that they conceded in strong scoring positions. There were at least five occasions when Tynedale stole possession at the breakdown, along with a couple of kick-and-chases, by Tyler Spence and Nathan Pope, which saw the ball just get to the deadball line ahead of the attackers.
After the break, it was the hosts’ turn to show their defensive mettle as Tynedale upped their performance, although there were still chances for Hoppers to get within a fingertip of a try.
When the first touchdown did finally come – after 56 minutes – there was an element of good fortune as a Preston counter-attack put winger Matt Crow away.
As he tried to give a scoring pass inside, the ball ricocheted off a defender straight back into his path for a clear run to the line. Davidson converted, then cleverly moved his side 16 points clear with the club’s first drop goal for several seasons.
Victory was sealed when Fitzpatrick twisted over from close range but hopes of a third “whitewash” of the campaign were dashed when Tynedale replacement Gareth Black was driven over from a line-out.
The win took Hoppers above both Tynedale and Hinckley – visitors to Lightfoot Green in three weeks’ time – into a healthy seventh place, with a trip to virtually-doomed Peterborough Lions next Saturday.