Defeat may benefit Hoppers in long run

Oli Trippier starts in the front row (photo: Mike Craig)
Oli Trippier starts in the front row (photo: Mike Craig)

Preston Grasshoppers head coach Paul Arnold strangely believes his team’s first loss of the season may have a positive impact on the rest of the campaign.

After winning 16 and drawing one of their first 17 games to open up a huge gap at the top of the North Premier league table, Hoppers finally tasted defeat last weekend.

Kirkby Lonsdale’s fantastic defensive effort gave them a superb 17-12 home victory over the runaway leaders.

Arnold admits the defeat was probably just his luck after he had spoken on the eve of the fixture about his team going the entire season unbeaten.

However, that particular target will now have to be consigned to the dustbin and Arnold accepts he may have placed an added burden on his players.

“I take full responsibility,” he said. “I talked about going the season unbeaten before the game – that probably put a curse on us.

“As a coach maybe I hyped that up as a goal a bit too much and maybe the players felt a bit of pressure. But in a way, it’s a bit of a monkey off our back now – we can refocus and concentrate on the remaining games of the season.”

Arnold revealed he was left wondering how his team had lost immediately after last weekend’s game, but on review credited a colossal effort by their opponents.

“I have played in games like that where you are left scratching your head, wondering how you have lost,” he said.

“But then you look and we made 22 errors, gave 12 penalties away – we’ve been averaging eight per game – that’s the reason we lost.

“They made 180 tackles, which is pretty phenomenal.”

This weekend, Hoppers have the perfect opportunity to banish the memory of the Kirkby loss – a derby clash against Rossendale at Lightfoot Green.

The visitors are coached by Arnold’s old mentor Mark Nelson, who used to be in charge of Fylde, while a number of former Hoppers stars are set to line up against their old club.

“They have been on a good run,” said Arnold. “They have brought a few players in, but we know what to expect – it’s going to be tough.”

James Fitzpatrick is unavailable this week, so Alex Hurst and Sam Stott start at centre. Forward Sam Gale is suspended following his red card at Kirkby Lonsdale and Ollie Trippier starts in the back row, with Matt Frings on the bench.

Vale of Lune increased their lead in North One West to 11 points last Saturday . Tomorrow, they travel to Wilmslow.

It’s top versus bottom in National One when Fylde visit Coventry, who whitewashed them 64-0 at Ansdell in October.

Hoppers: Jordan; Spence, Hurst, Stott, Crosley; Ward, Squirrell; Mabaya, Millea, Altham, Arnold, Roddy, A Murray, Trippier, Lamprey. Replacements: Akrigg, Madden, Frings.

Vale: J Dorrington; Jacques, Owens, B Dorrington, Ramwell; Turton, Swarbrick; Ferguson, Powers, Pillow, Fellows, Rainford, Ayrton, Sadler, Wallbank. Replacements: Mawdsley, Cvijanovic, Finan.