LASSOED AT LEIGH.
For half an hour the Vale ran free and kicked up their trim little heels but in the end they were roped in and well and truly trussed up.....
1 Paul McLaren-Dorrington Lancaster Lets.co.uk
2 James Hesketh R G Parkin & Partners
3 Alex Cowey Fat Lads United
4 Adam Foxcroft City Communications
5 Gareth Tudor Lancaster Lets.co.uk
6 Ben Charnley S J B Tiling
7 Scott Foy Allan Entwistle (Enty)
8 Andy Garnett George Dickson
9 Darren Wilson Barbara and Marlene Nisbet
10 Jonty Higgin Jilly Beads
11 James Curran
12 Rob Ward Ron Higgin
13 David Haigh Bay Travel
14 Adam Macluskie D Hall, Financial Planning Sevices
15 Nick Royle Grand Cru
16 Stephen Quick Barry Parsonage
17 Andy Powers
18 Olly Dobson
Shelly wrote of "Bare Winter suddenly changed to Spring," and there was certainly a hint of the season starting to change at Round Ash Park when the Vale of Lune and Leigh faced each other for the second time in North One West. Alas for the Vale the dark days continued with a below par performance against a club that sits next to bottom in the league and has not won at home all season.
After last week's home defeat against Wirral coach Woodward read the riot act, what he is going to do after the debacle at Leigh is left to the imagination but conjures up visions of thumb screws, the rack, a spell in the dungeon and rock breaking; certainly after the fiasco that unfolded something has to be done.
Ever since the end of November the Vale's season has mirrored the lyrics of New Christy Minstrels' hit "Three Wheels On My Wagon." The Vale might be rolling along to the end of the season but the Cherokees are chasing hard and the wheels keep dropping off, the supply of beads and trinkets are dwindling and while "Pioneers, they never say die," the arrows are still flying and the hidden cave is still four fixtures away.
The outcome was a massive let down for the Vale and in particular for full back Nick Royle who broke Mark Nelson's first team try scoring record to take his total to the season to 37, made up of 34 league tries and a hat trick at the start of the season at Stoke on Trent. Celebrations were muted at the final whistle as a proud individual achievement was submerged in wave after wave of recriminations that rumbled on throughout the evening.
Leigh, as was to be expected were jubilant at registering their first victory on their own patch and only their third in the league this season. They might be staring at relegation but they fully deserved their win, it was no fluke because they had to overcome a torrid opening but as the Vale began to run out of ideas and visibly tired in the second half, the Leigh forwards exerted a vice like grip on the game to dominate proceedings. The Vale had no answer, their early season sparkle and adventure has all but disappeared and while they try to manoeuvre their way out of this dodgy patch their only crumb of comfort is that their start of the season enterprise built up a healthy point's balance which has helped them to ride out the storm but has not stopped them tumbling down the table.
Since fixtures began at first team level in the 1996/97 season the Vale have only won four times at Round Ash Park and have lost on six occasions. It is never an easy fixture at Leigh, there is certainly intense rivalry between the two clubs which has been proved in the past, and once the amber and blacks sniff a weakness they go for the jugular with little ceremony.
The game began with a dangerous scampering break from the home side's scrum half David Wood in the second minute before the Vale assumed control. The backs moved the ball with confidence, the forwards stared to build a solid platform in the sets and the overall pace was quite high.
Jonty Higgin pinged the ball accurately behind the Leigh defenders, James Curran, David Haigh, Rob Ward and Royle began to cut through and in the sixteenth minute their endeavours were rewarded. Alex Cowey charged down a kick, the Vale were awarded a scrum the ball was moved crisply on the short side and Royle wrote his name into the history book with an unconverted try wide out on the right.
The Vale were playing with vim an vigour, a scrum was taken against the head, Curran went careering downfield after Royle had taken a quick throw in and a second score seemed imminent. Quick thinking at penalty ended with Haigh crossing for an unconverted try in the twenty fourth minute.
Vale continued to graft but in the final ten minutes their compass started to go haywire. In the thirty first minute the Leigh pack stated to rumble deep in Vale's twenty two from a line out forcing the visitors to backpedal with little dignity. Scrum half Dave Wood, who was orchestrating the move touched down for an unconverted try, but it was his forwards who had discovered Vale's Achilles.
Winger Elliott Ryan kicked two penalty goals either side of half time to give Leigh a one point lead but this disappeared in the forty fifth minute when Rob Ward dotted the ball down after it had bounced unchecked in the dead ball area for an unconverted try.
The roar of a trials bike in a nearby field was suddenly muffled when it became stuck in the mud up to the axles and spluttered to a halt. This mechanical diversion was reflected in a downturn in the Vale's performance and while the rider eventually coaxed his steed back into life the Vale were not so fortunate, their carburettor became blocked and the plugs only fired intermittently.
Leigh quickly sensed this loss of power and started driving forward as a solid unit, splitting and isolating their opposite numbers. Leigh started to turn the screw the Vale appeared devoid of ideas and in the fifty sixth minute Leigh's pack softened up the Vale sufficiently for number eight, Steve Millard, who had an inspirational game, to touch down, his try being converted by Ryan.
Vale's game became very fragmented, players were isolated too often for comfort as Leigh grew in confidence and forced Vale to scurry about in defence. Any meaningful Vale attacks soon petered out, they became far too predictable and easy prey for a Leigh team that scented victory and a major upset.
This was confirmed in the seventy first minute when lock David Penn went over for a try from another controlled forward onslaught at close quarters, Ryan added the conversion. Leigh went all out for the bonus point against a chaotic, rickety Vale defence which somehow managed to hold out until the final whistle.
In all the post match chuntering, eye ball rolling, hand wringing, gnashing of teeth, nothing different there because it happened last season in Leigh's clubhouse for the Vale faithful, it was so easy to lose sight of the fact that a 30 year old club record had been broken when Nick Royle touched down for his 37th try of the season, 34 in North One West plus a hat trick at Stoke on Trent.
Nick's exploits this season have thrilled an excited those who appreciate speed, power, grace, elegance and sinewy strength., but perhaps not his opponents. The final score line against Leigh is confined to the archives and reduced to a series of black and white digits but Nick's record is a complex mixture of romantic and artistic overtones and because the season has not yet to run its course the final tally, like Mark Nelson's, could well stand the test of time.
Coincidentally on the day before Nick was born, 25 September 1983, Mark was playing for the Vale over at Instonians in Belfast, scoring the only try in a 37-9 defeat, Andy Higgin converted Mark's try and also kicked a penalty goal.