Preston Grasshoppers’ fighting spirit has been key in title charge

James Fitzpatrick is unavailable for Preston Grasshoppers this weekend
James Fitzpatrick is unavailable for Preston Grasshoppers this weekend

Preston Grasshoppers’ ability to grind out victories from losing positions is what has set them apart from the pack this season.

That is according to head coach Paul Arnold who can lead his team to the North Premier league title this weekend with victory over Ilkley at Lightfoot Green.

Hoppers find themselves 15 points clear at the top of the table with four games of the season left to play. They have won 20 of their 22 games, losing just once – to Kirkby Lonsdale – all season.

However, despite their dominant position, it has not been all plain sailing for Arnold’s men.

They have found themselves in some pretty perilous positions over the course of the campaign – none more so than the opening day of the season when they found themselves down in the scoreline at Sandal with the clock ticking 
down.

But a late Matt Lamprey try rescued them then and their fighting qualities came to the fore once more last weekend as they overturned a 29-12 half-time deficit at Lymm to win 39-32.

“It something which we have done from the first game of the season,” said Arnold.

“I always remember the skipper after that first game saying, ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s the first minute or the 82nd, we are not losing’.

“We have shown character to come back a number of times.

“You look at the weekend. We were playing fourth in the league Lymm – I don’t think anybody would have complained if they would have won from the position they were in.

“But the lads showed that they were not going to let that happen.”

Ilkley will provide stiff opposition for Hoppers.

They are a strong mid-table side, who ran Arnold’s men close earlier in the season

“We want to get the title wrapped up as soon as possible,” Arnold said.

“There will be no complacency.”

Sam Gale and James Fitzpatrick are unavailable this weekend, so Olli Trippier returns to the back row and Jack Akrigg is in at centre after some fine second-team performances.

Meanwhile, the annual Good Friday charity challenge against Fylde for the Brendan Hanavan Trophy, takes place at Lightfoot Lane, 2pm start.

Vale of Lune travel to Stockport, who are fifth in North One West. Just two more wins should see Vale seal promotion.

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

Vale: Hall; J Dorrington, Owens, B Dorrington, Jacques; Turton, Swarbrick’ Branford, Powers, Stephens, Fellows, Wallbank, Ayrton, Sadler, Stewart. Replacements: Mawdsley, Cvijanovic, Higgin (or Ramwell).