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Longton 1st XV 19 v 24 Stoke

In this last game of the season with nothing at stake apart from local bragging rights, it was 5th. placed Stoke who came out on top of 12th. placed Longton by 24pts. to 19. The visitors deserved their victory as they were more clinical in their general play, making fewer handling mistakes and having a tighter defence, despite Longton scoring three tries to Stoke’s two.

In front of a large, enthusiastic crowd and on a breezy but fine day it was Longton who got off to the best possible start. With just two minutes gone the home team chose to take a scrum from a penalty award, using their heavier pack to dominate in this area. The ball was moved wide at pace with a long cut-out pass from Scott Rawlings to Sam Evans who beat several defenders for pace to touch down wide out. The conversion attempt went wide but Longton led by 5pts. to nil.

Although under great pressure in the scrums it was the Stoke lineout which was functioning perfectly enabling them to spin the ball wide at every opportunity. After a spell of play in the Longton “22” Stoke passed the ball at pace left in the 18th. minute and were able to touch down for their first try. The conversion failed leaving the score at 5pts. all.

It was another 15mins. before the next score came as Stoke continued to win more possession; a penalty from Andy Marsh who slotted over after Longton’s Sam Evans was yellow carded for slowing release of the ball after a tackle, making the score 8 – 5pts. Then, a few minutes later Longton’s Josh Jones was very harshly shown a yellow card after kicking the ball off the ground. The referee deemed that the Stoke player had collected the ball off the floor and that the Longton player had kicked it out of his hands, despite the fact that the ball was still in contact with the ground and the Stoke player had just got his hands to the ball without actually having a firm grip of it. The resultant penalty was struck home making the score 11 – 5pts. to Stoke. Longton played out the half with 13 men and for the first 5mins. of the second half.

 In the 6th. minute of the half, with Longton still one man down, Stoke were  dominating the early play and deservedly added to their score with a forward drive, having camped in the home “22” for several minutes. The conversion was good taking Stoke clear at 18 – 5pts.

Longton were only back to 15 men for a few minutes before flanker, Eroni Lequai, was yellow carded in the 8th. minute. However, Longton ran the ball from their own half out to left wing, Mark Dougherty, who beat two men for pace before passing inside to the supporting Sam Evans and he scorched in from 20m. to touch down for a fine try. Sam Bedworth’s conversion was successful making it 18 – 12pts.

The next 25mins. produced no further scores although Stoke enjoyed more possession and territory. With 36mins. gone Stoke won a scrum 25m. from the Longton line and scored a well-taken drop goal to make it 21 – 12pts and putting the visitors two scores in front. Then, as the clock reached 40mins. Stoke kicked a penalty from 20m. out and in mid-field to nudge further ahead by 24 – 12pts.

Longton did, however, have the last word as they notched their third try with the last play of the game through Mark Dougherty who beat three men wide left to dive in at the corner. Sam Bedworth converted with a superb kick from the touchline to make the final score 24 – 19pts., a consolation bonus point being Longton’s only reward. Ultimately, it was the conceding of too many kickable penalties and three yellow cards which proved Longton’s undoing.

Longton now face life in Midlands Two West next season having suffered two relegations in two seasons, paying the penalty for losing their first 10 games whilst they struggled to bed in six new young players.

M. Wheat.

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