Billingham 24 - 27 Birkenhead Park
BIRKENHEAD chalked up their fourth successive win in National Three North League but it was close.
Coming off the back of two excellent wins against Bradford and Beverley, Park knew that this would be a tough battle in the North East. Park have been in the same position as Billingham in the past and know what it is to fight for survival. Needless to say, Billingham did not disappoint with a gritty, determined display.
Proceedings got off to a flyer with wing Danny Rich finding some space and if it had not been for an illegal interception attempt, Lavin may have gone in for his first try fo the club sooner. Billingham's full back was given ten in the bin for his obvious block.
Park chose to take the line-out and mauled well to send CJ over for another of his signature tries. Good start but as often has been the case this year, it doesn't always lead to a result. Billingham were to get the next score, working the ball through the back line from a scrum which the winger took in his stride. 7-5.
For the rest of the first half and indeed most of the match, Park set piece was absolutely dominant. Scrum time seemed to be a breeze with the pack virtually running over their opponents at times, whilst both jumpers stole or disrupted ball in the lineout.
Park managed to find some rythym in open play midway through the first half and worked their way up the pitch capitalising on penalties and mistakes from the home team. Park took every opportunity to maul the ball at Billingham knowing that their forward power was simply too much for Billingham on the day. With the experience and control of CJ at the back of the maul, Park were able to add two more scores before half time although neither converted. Billingham did not lie down and crossed again before half time through their winger who was having a good day with ball in hand.
Onto the second half, and no more than a mintue had gone when Billinghams fly half expertly chipped over the back line and raced away before putting in his teammate for their third try and their kicker brought the scoreline equal. Park were not fazed though and went straight back at them looking to add to their tally.
Billingham defended well but youngster Jack Lavin crossed after 48 minutes, finding the narrowest of gaps to squeeze over for his first Park try. Hall added the extras but it became 24-24 shortly afterwards when Park allowed Billingham to spread the ball again which found none other than their powerful winger who went over for a third..
The sides were locked at 24-24 for a good 15 mintues with neither side managing to make the breakthrough. In all honesty, it seemed like Billigham were more likely to steal this with Park conceding a string of penalties resulting in Park losing a player to the sin bin. However, Park stuck to the task knowing their defence was solid and they would get a chance to counter attack. In the last minute, it came. Danny Rich and Andy trotter combined well to make the crucial break. Joe Pollard took the ball on a further 20 yards into the Billingham 22. Billingham borke under the pressure and conceded a penalty. Jack Lavin took a shot at goal knowing that penalty advantage had been given. The ball sailed towards the posts but bounced back of the bar/flag. The ref brought play back to the penalty and Dave Hall made no mistake to clinch the points with the final whistle arriving immediately after.
It was then anybody’s game in the final quarter before the Hall clincher. The Park eight did really well with Jack Ashcroft again impressive at lock
Birkenhead had the forward power in wet and miserable conditions with number eight Dave Ibbotson being given the man of the match award by the hosts.
All credit to Billingham for their display and the game could of gone either way. However, Birkenhead had the rub of the green on the day and a little experience goes a long way in this situation. Its about time we had a bit of luck!