Another bonus-point victory kept Preston Grasshoppers in second place in the North Premier League. But the overwhelming reaction – from head coach Paul Arnold down – was massive relief.
Hoppers kept their noses in front for all but 15 minutes, but a combination of poor discipline, lack of a killer instinct and wayward goalkicking meant they could never pull away from a dogged Kirkby Lonsdale whose full-back Ryan Terry proved much more successful than Will Hunt off the tee.
“That was a very average display,” said Arnold. “When we put three or four phases together, we were dangerous and dominant, and were definitely the better side. But our discipline was appalling and they got a good telling off at half-time.
“We have a belief that we’re not going to lose and it is a sign of a decent team to be able to win ugly. We are still gelling as a team, but today was a big chance for some lads to put their hands up and they didn’t. We underperformed all round.”
Arnold himself got the scoreboard moving with a third-minute try from close range after a break by winger Niall Crosley. As Hoppers started to fall foul of referee Owen Taylor, who penalised them nine times in the first half with only four going the other way, Terry was able to keep his side in the game with four successful kicks out of five before the break.
However, Hoppers had added two more unconverted tries for a 15-12 lead. First winger Scott Jordan cut a brilliant line to latch onto an Arnold offload and race over. Then a Crosley kick and chase brought successive five-metre scrums, from the second of which No 8 Matt Lamprey barrelled over.
Hoppers couldn’t get going in the second half, with their big ball-carriers often nullified, and, after Terry missed a penalty, disaster struck. Covering back after a kick ahead, full-back Alex Hurst was contentiously deemed to have prevented a possible try by shovelling the ball over the dead-ball line, resulting in a penalty try and yellow card. The visitors were ahead for the first time, but immediately lost concentration and allowed Hoppers to retake the lead when lock Chris Roddy was first to get a hand on a kick through for the bonus-point try; 20-19.
Three minutes later, the visitors were back in front when Craig Galbraith crashed over from close range, with Terry again converting, via the crossbar.
With Kirkby Lonsdale flanker Andre Potgieter in the sinbin for a dangerous tackle, Hoppers squandered two clear chances. But they persevered and, having infuriated home fans with the visitors’ penalty try, Mr Taylor delighted them by awarding Preston one of their own as a line-out drive was illegally halted.
Hoppers managed to hold on to their one-point lead for the last 10 minutes to extend their unbeaten run to six games.
It’s a blank Saturday next weekend, and Arnold said he would be delaying the inquest on this patchy victory until later in the week. “It also gives us time to get back some of the lads carrying knocks,” said the much-relieved coach.