Fylde earned their first away win of the season with a gutsy display against Old Albanian at the Woollams. A last minute long range penalty kick by on form fly-half Greg Smith was the dramatic denouement of a closely fought contest between two well matched squads. After a sequence of eight successive National One defeats away from the Woodlands and propping up the division, Fylde’s victory will give their young squad renewed confidence that they can compete and battle the threat of relegation.
This was only Fylde’s fifth ever visit to the Woollams and they have won just once, an extraordinary 41-45 game in September 2012. This was never likely to rival that extravaganza.
Fylde took early control of the match when they forced the home side to concede penalties. Greg Smith opened the scoring in the 3rd minute with the first of his successful kicks at goal. It was a case of ‘more of the same’ in the 14th minute when he converted another penalty with a convincing kick to establish a 0-6 lead for the visitors.
Old Albanian came back into the game strongly and established an advantage in both possession and territory. In the 28th minute centre Dan Watt reduced the deficit with a penalty kick. As Fylde were forced back inside their own half, OA took the upper hand in a critical period of ten minutes before the interval. In the 37th minute scrum-half Jack Daly put in a grubber kick behind the Fylde defence and wing Joe Bridger won the chase to the line to score. Watt added the extras to give OA the lead at 10-6. Fylde wing George Brookes retired with a leg injury and was replaced by debutant Luke Fowden, a young cross-code back from Greater Manchester.
Old Albanian expanded on this with some excellent build up play which resulted in Bridger scoring his second try in injury time just before the interval. This time Watt was unable to make the conversion from wide out but OA took a healthy 15-6 lead into the changing room at half-time.
If Fylde were to get anything out of the game it was vital that they hit back quickly – and they did just that. Securing possession early on, they launched an attack and centre Chris Briers finished it off with a good try. Greg Smith converted it well from a difficult angle and Fylde were back in the game at just 15-13 down.
Fylde were playing better in the 2nd half than they did in the first 40 minutes. However, unfortunate errors still undermined their efforts and prevented them from taking due advantage. As the half progressed, OA stepped up their efforts and spent an extended period in the Fylde half. They pressed hard and Fylde’s defence was heroic. They conceded a number of penalties and the home side had opportunities to finish off the Lancastrians. But the visitors dug in and gained turnover ball to negate the pressure.
Gradually Fylde fought their way upfield as the game entered the final minutes. It was the 79th minute when an Old Albanian player offended and conceded a penalty. It was a long way out but Smith decided to go for the kick. It was a fine effort and although held up by the breeze it just fell over the crossbar to win the game for the visitors. Given some of their bad luck in recent games, somehow it was fitting to win such a tight contest in such a dramatic fashion. Smith was named man of the match by The Rugby Paper in a very heartening return to goal kicking form.
With four home games featuring in the next six fixtures, Fylde will look to build on the win to climb away from 16th place. Their immediate concern will be to be competitive against promotion challenging Blackheath at the Woodlands on Saturday.
Fylde Head Coach Warren Spragg was anything other than complacent after the victory: “We were actually quite disappointing with the ball in hand and coughed it up too easily, but some abrasive and enthusiastic defence managed to keep us in the game. I’m really happy for Greg Smith that he nailed the final long distance kick. He’s not had the start to the season that we hoped for but is finding his form now and this should pump him full of confidence for the next few games.
“It’s important that we don’t get too carried away with this win and keep challenging ourselves in training to get better. Blackheath are a top team who will be out for blood after losing at the death today. To me, that means next week’s game will be a real battle and I can’t wait for Saturday to come round again!”
Photos courtesy of Old Albanian RFC & Sean Wilkinson.