This was one of the more curious matches in the 98 year history of fixtures between these two famous clubs. Fylde dominated the first and third quarters, Preston Grasshoppers the second and fourth quarters. Far too many penalties scarred the game making it fractured and breaking up the continuity of both teams. In the end, the draw was a fair result but Fylde will be rueing the loss of control and letting 17-3 and then 24-10 leads dissipate against a storming Hoppers come back in the last 10 minutes of the game.
Proudly wearing their new Centenary strip based on the colours and design of their forefathers back in 1919, and with a new main shirt sponsor, The Envelope Works, Fylde started the game with purpose and focus. They pressurised the Hoppers defence and, from a scrummage inside the visitors’ 22m line in the 6th minute, Scott Rawlings took the ball at pace and drove over the line to claim the opening try. Even with two or three Hoppers players hanging on to the big and powerful centre, they had no hope of stopping him in his first game back at the Club that he left in 2016. Greg Smith converted the try from close to the posts for a 7-0 lead.
Hoppers came back strongly with a long, mazy run down the centre by their dangerous winger Tyler Spence in the 10th minute. He left a couple of Fylde defenders flat footed and carved a big hole on his way to the line. Fylde’s speedster, Tom Carleton, caught him but was adjudged to have high tackled him and was immediately shown a yellow card for his trouble. Scrum-half Jake Squirrell converted the penalty to reduce the deficit.
Fylde went on the attack immediately from the re-start pushing Hoppers back into their own half. In the 12th minute the visitors had possession but Fylde lock Jacob Conner got his hands on the ball at the tackle breakdown and Hoppers were penalised for holding on. Greg Smith had a relatively easy job to kick the penalty to extend the lead to 10-3 despite being down to 14 players.
The Fylde pack was looking lively, with no 8 Dave Fairbrother, Connor and hooker Ben Gregory particularly visible. Behind his forwards, scrum-half Adam Lanigan was especially lively and not afraid to take on the Hoppers backrow.
In the 15th minute Fylde were back deep inside the Hoppers half and they attacked down their right side. From close in, Ben Gregory got his hands on the ball and drove through defenders to make the try line. After discussion with one of his Assistants, referee James O’Brien awarded the try. Greg Smith nailed a tricky conversion and Fylde had a convincing 17-3 lead.
Gradually, Hoppers got back into the game, often with the indiscipline of the home side helping them although Tom Carleton was now back in the game. The penalty count began to stack up against Fylde. Preston’s Head Coach Paul Arnold rang the changes in personnel as he brought on replacement lock Luke Proctor and late signing from Sale FC this week, the very promising loose head prop John Blanchard.
The young prop appeared to make a difference as the visiting pack strengthened its scrummaging and forced an early penalty. Hoppers were now spending more and more time in the Fylde half and a couple of offences by the home defence, one for offside and then an immediate follow up when the visiting jumper was illegally hampered in the succeeding line-up. In the 33rd minute a Hoppers attack down the centre gave space for no 8 Matt Lamprey to charge through some ineffectual tackling to crash over the line for his side’s opening try. Jake Squirrell added the conversion from in front of the posts for a 17-10 score as the 1st half ended with Fylde defending grimly.
At the start of the 2nd half, Fylde once again took control and dominated possession and territory inside the Hoppers half. However, they struggled to break down the visitors’ defence despite the penalty count now going in Fylde’s favour. In the 59th minute Hoppers centre Sam Stott was sinbinned for interfering with Fylde possession near his line. This spurred the home side to move the ball down their right side, then switch left when a long drifted miss pass found Tom Grimes who had enough space to dodge a defender and dive over in the left corner for his side’s third try. Greg Smith’s touchline conversion was spot on and his side had what looked a defining 24-10 lead.
Another Fylde attack minutes later saw a break from Tom Carleton and followed on by Connor Wilkinson run and chip towards the line. Desperate Hoppers defence save the day but in the subsequent pressure on Hoppers line prop Noah Miller joined Stott in the sinbin. Instead of another Fylde penalty 5m out, some retaliation saw Mr O’Brien reverse the penalty and Hoppers cleared their lines.
Briefly down to 13 players, Hoppers hung in and when Stott returned mounted pressure following another penalty conceded by the home side. From the subsequent pressure on the Fylde line, replacement Ben Dorrington forced his way over for a crucial try near the posts. Another replacement, fly-half Nick Gregson, converted this easily and reduced the deficit to 24-17.
Suddenly, Hoppers were right back in the contest and raised their game accordingly. Fylde were back on their heels and looking rather shell shocked. Nevertheless, they attacked inside the Hoppers half but the visitors secured a turn over and mounted a long break out in the 78th minute through the ever dangerous Tyler Spence. He was caught by the Fylde defence but Hoppers retained possession and the impressive backrower Ryan Carlson drove over to the delight of his team mates and the large group of Hoppers supporters in the big crowd. With a couple of minutes to go, Gregson coolly kicked a far from straightforward conversion to level the scores. The final whistle blew a couple of minutes later.
One observer after the game called this ‘a losing draw’ for Fylde and there was no doubt that the visitors were smiling much more intensely than the home players as they formed the tunnel. Fylde had really taken their foot off the gas halfway through each half and Hoppers had bravely fought back for an ultimately deserved share of the points. Two league points were earned for each club. Fylde coaches and players will be examining the video of the game very carefully and will be addressing weaknesses before a difficult trip to England’s most beautiful ground, Wharfedale’s Threshfield, next Saturday.
Assistant Coach Chris Briers said: “We took control of the game in the 1st half, got a couple of scores but then we gave away a lot of penalties, didn’t secure enough possession and let it slip.
“It was much the same in the 2nd half and we established a clear lead. In the final 20 minutes though Hoppers were chasing the game and stepped it up, working hard. They made a couple of breaks and we imploded and gave the game away. It was very frustrating. We knew it was there, we knew we had it. But we took our foot off the gas. Preston’s tails were up. Had the game gone on longer, they were ascendant, deserved their two late tries and might have won. I’ll have to look at the match video but, overall, a draw was probably a fair result.”
15 Tom Carleton (George Brookes 80); 14 Lex Botha, 13 Connor Wilkinson, 12 Scott Rawlings, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Adam Lanigan; 1 Elliot Horner, 2 Ben Gregory (Alex Loney 63), 3 Adam Lewis, 4 Nick Ashcroft, 5 Jacob Conner, 6 Hal Chapman, 7 Ben O’Ryan (Olli Parkinson 53), 8 David Fairbrother.
Non-playing replacements: Jonny Wild and Matt Garrod.
15 Jordan Dorrington; 14 Tyler Spence, 13 Sam Stott, 12 James Fitzpatrick (Nick Gregson 53), 11 Scott Jordan; 10 Joe Prior, 9 Jake Squirrell (Ben Dorrington 64); 1 Tyler Sloane (John Blanchard 22), 2 P J Millea (c) (Ally Murray 64), 3 Noah Miller, 4 Adam Howard (Luke Proctor 22), 5 Ally Murray (Chris Taylor 53), 6 Ryan Carlson, 7 Toby Harrison, 8 Matt Lamprey.
Photos courtesy of Chris Farrow[srizonfbalbum id=17]