HARD GRAFT FOR FRIEND AND FOE.
By Stuart Vernon
This was a low scoring nail biter for both sides for which both teams emerged with credit.
The first home game of 2019 saw Vale of Lune 4ths welcome Leigh 3rds, with the away side looking to avenge the 29-12 loss they suffered in the reverse fixture. Leigh currently find themselves 5th in Division 4 North and knew that nothing less than a victory was required if they wanted to maintain any hopes of promotion. Vale were seeking a victory that would keep them top of the table albeit with sides below them having games in hand. With Leigh boasting one of the meanest defences in the league, Vale were under no illusion that any scores were going to be well earned.
Selection, on paper, looked to be very simple for Captain Paul Scott with only 3 changes from the XV that started against TC last week, including the same front 8. Injuries meant that Arbon, Ashton and Shorrock were unavailable but Minikin and Birtwhistle came back into the side and there was a first start in the 4th team for PetarAlexov. Cover on the bench was provided by the returning Stu Middlehurst and Shane McDermott. Leigh decided to play the 1st half with the wind at their backs, hoping to use the natural conditions to get an early advantage.
The opening minutes of the game saw both sets of forwards testing each other out with some strong running and some equally resolute tackling. The breakdown was a highly competitive area and one where both sides had early joy with turning over ball at key times. These turnovers meant that a lot of the game was played in the middle third of the pitch with neither team really threatening each other’s 22s. There was the odd attacking threat, good hands from Leigh’s back line put their left winger in space but he was bundled into touch by Minikin just after entering Vale’s 22. Vale responded with Batson breaching Leigh’s initial defences but he couldn’t beat their full back, who did well to make the tackle and then turn the ball over. Due to an injury to one of Leigh’s props, scrums had to go to uncontested and this remained the case for the remainder of the game. With the half finishing scoreless, the only other thing of note was a bout of sickness for Dave Minikin. This caused by accidentally swallowing a load of mud when dropping his mouth guard and then not checking it when he put it back in his mouth. A very unfortunate incident for him but highly amusing for his teammates.
Changes were made in the engine room at half time, McDermott and Middlehurst replacing the hardworking duo of Callum Steel and Karl Hansson. Despite now having the wind at their backs, Vale again found it hard going to break through Leigh’s unwavering defence. Much of the game was played in the visitors half but Vale just couldn’t find the right play to get a decisive score. Mid-way through the 2nd half, Leigh were penalised for not realising the player, Scott decided to kick at goal. Minikin made no mistake with his attempt and Vale finally had something to show for their territorial ascendency. 3-0.
The remainder of the game saw Vale pushing for a score to increase their lead rather than just looking to hold on to it. Credit must go to the Vale pack who all put in big shifts in both attack and defence, with the back row of Blenkharn, Robinson and Tom Summers particularly threatening with ball in hand. Despite these efforts, Vale couldn’t add to their points total and had to be satisfied with a 3-0 win. Leigh leaving with a losing bonus point, richly deserved for their defensive efforts.
Many thanks once again to Alex Batson for his report.
I have every sympathy with Alex when it came to writing up his match report, the last time I had the "pleasure" of reporting on a low scoring first team game was at the end of December 2003 when the Vale won at Fleetwood in a first round Lancashire Cup tie, 3-0, courtesy of a Dave McFall penalty. It was flipping cold! (Stuart Vernon)