OLDHAM EDGED OUT
STILL TOP BUT JUST
The outcome of this promotion shoot-out remained on a knife edge until the final whistle blew. A battered and bruised Aspatria held on to win the game, leaving a combative Oldham side wondering how they ended up on the wrong side of a 7:5 score line.
The win keeps Aspatria in the automatic promotion spot with 60 points from 17 games. How long they remain there depends on second placed Keswick. The Lakesiders are only 4 points behind Aspatria but crucially have two games in hand. De La Salle are 3rd and head a pack of six clubs, including Oldham, who all retain hopes of claiming, at least, the play-off berth.
Weather conditions at Bower Park turned this game into a grinding, sometimes ill-tempered affair, with little skill on show to reward those hardy supporters brave enough to endure the conditions. The wind howled across an already greasy playing surface making handling, line-outs and kicking a lottery; and if that was not enough slanting rain joined in from time to time to add further gloom.
The opposing packs provided the main focus of interest. Both teams had heavyweight forwards at their disposal and it was the clashes between them that dominated most of the day’s play. Oldham had the better of the early collisions with the second row pairing of Nick Hackman and Cameron Wood delighting in taking on the Aspatria defence.
The strong wind confined a high percentage of play to a narrow channel along the scoreboard side of the ground. When the ball, as it all too frequently did, blew into touch the side putting in had extreme difficulty throwing either straight or retaining possession. Oldham lost their first 3 line outs in this fashion and Aspatria little better, although they were quicker to adopt short throws and gain some degree of control.
Aspatria second row, Phil Dixon, was in great form in the black and red defence. Thanks to his leadership the home side resisted all of Oldham’s early pressure. Aspatria finally broke out of their 22 around the 10 minute mark when centre, Fraser McNee tore up the right wing, taking him close to the opposition 22 mark. A penalty was awarded, allowing Aspatria to set up a catch and drive move. The effort came to nothing as the ball was turned over by a tenacious Oldham defence. Oldham move the ball quickly into the back division where scrum half Alex Jobson took possession and had the gas to round the out of position Aspatria defence, racing 70 meters to the try line. Against the wind the conversion attempt stood no chance and the scoreboard remained at 0:5.
On 24 minutes Oldham’s try scorer, found himself on the wrong side of the referee and was yellow carded. This kick-started a lasting spell of possession for Aspatria. The home side quickly took up residence on the Oldham try line where pick and go tactics came within inches of delivering a break through. Oldham survived and gradually turned the tables on Aspatria when the impressive mauling of the visiting forwards had Aspatria struggling against the home try line. Time and time again Oldham looked close to a score. On the 37 minute mark and with the half running out they finally got over but the ball was held up by an Aspatria arm. By this point a little frustration had crept into the game and a second Oldham player still had time to be binned for an off the ball tackle before the referee signalled half time.
Only 0:5 up but on balance Oldham had the better of the first 40 minutes, employing forward orientated tactics that fully suited the conditions. Those same conditions would now be in Aspatria’s favour and it was game on.
Within minutes of the restart Aspatria appeared to have changed tactics. The home side were showing a desire to bring the back division into the game and with only 4 minutes gone this paid dividends. Matthew Atkinson peeled off the back of an attacking scrum and his pop pass, brought centre Craig Foster into the attack. Foster’s dart sucked defenders in towards him and when the ball was released to stand-off, Ryan Scott, he had the task of carrying it over the line to bring the scores level at 5 all. The young stand-off, son of Aspatria’s legendary coach, Mike Scott, then took responsibility for the conversion. It was on the right side to take advantage of the breeze but still a difficult kick. No worries, Scott split the uprights and Aspatria had their noses in front at 7:5.
Aspatria failed to build on this early momentum and the game reassumed trench warfare. Enterprise was in short supply, neither side could get the better of the other. Into the final quarter and Oldham looked to be gaining ground in the final battle. Their spirits lifted on 61 minutes when one of Aspatria’s most effective defenders, Matthew Atkinson received a yellow card.
Oldham were now maintaining a near permanent presence in Aspatria territory. It became a question of would the home side hold on. The prospects of this happening were further reduced on 66 minutes when Aspatria went down to 13 men with the sin binning of fullback Andrew Miller. This was Oldham’s time. They worked hard to gain attacking scrums deep in the Aspatria 22 and looked near certain to engineer a critical score. Aspatria dug deep and held out the initial Oldham effort but when the ball went wide an overlap loomed and a try looked inevitable. White line fever saved Aspatria. The Oldham back division spurned the use of two spare men in favour of trying to barge through a desperate home defence. It may have been desperate but it worked and the ball was won to end Oldham’s short spell of dominance.
On 70 minutes another flair-up, just inside the Aspatria half. This time Aspatria’s Greg Dickinson and his Oldham antagonist seeing yellow. Two off but the penalty went in favour of Oldham, such was the state of the game that Jobson decided to ignore the conditions and go for goal. It was a solid effort in the circumstances but it drifted well wide and another chance to put Aspatria under pressure was lost.
At the 73 minute mark Oldham did claim a 4:3 victory in the yellow card stakes as they received another for the day. Again, the disruption caused allowed Aspatria to get back into attacking mode. There were some good moments for left wing Paddy Noutch as his successive charges down the touchline had the Oldham defence scrambling. They remained solid and Aspatria could not get the score that would have clinched the game.
The last few seconds of the game seemed endless for Aspatria, players and supporters alike. Deep in stoppage time Oldham resumed control of the ball and earned an attacking scrum 7 meters out from the try line. This was to be the final play of the game. Oldham secured the ball and No8 Rob Frogget broke left to create a hole in the defensive wall. Frogget was stopped short and the ball recycled into the backs where much to Aspatria’s relief it was knocked on to end the contest.
The teams held a minutes silence before the game which allowed Aspatria players and supporters to show their respects to Guy Cuthell - a true black red supporter who recently passed away aged 93.