Late penalty gives Alnwick the narrowest victory over Park

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Alnwick 6-5 Percy Park

There will be questions galore among the Percy Park fraternity as to how they contrived to lose this match.

There will be as many questions among their Alnwick counterparts at this smash-and-grab by the home side, because if there was ever a case of ‘victory being snatched from the jaws of defeat’ then this was most surely it.

If the rewards for match sponsorship were measured in terms of points scored, the generosity of match sponsors A & J Scott (Sawmills) would have seen scant return on their investment. In this encounter, the shortage of points was compensated for by tension aplenty as Park strove to avenge their 45 – 20 league defeat at Greensfield earlier in the season.

If Alnwick’s memory of that score-line gave them a measure of pre-match confidence they’d have done well to remember that the heavy Park pack had posed plenty of problems in the second half of that game.

The morning’s steady rain had cleared leaving the pitch greasy underfoot as Alnwick kicked off down the slope into a cool but moderate breeze.

The opening phases of probing forward drives and kicking exchanges were largely inconclusive, keeping play mainly between the 22 metre lines where effective tackling by both sides limited the attacking options.

However, it seemed that Park had learned from their previous encounter and soon started the ploy of using centre Pike’s tactical kicks to keep his forwards on the front foot, whilst Alnwick’s strategic kicking was considerably less effective.

After 15 minutes Alnwick came close to scoring as a tap-and-go penalty attempt was halted by a high tackle yielding another penalty in a more promising position. Warcup’s kick struck the right upright but with no Alnwick players following up Park were able to clear their lines without undue pressure.

Aided by a couple of penalties and Pike’s astute kicking, Park forwards then created a period of pressure allowing their backs more freedom and came close when a catch-&-drive from a 5 metre line-out was held.

A penalty for crossing relieved the pressure on Alnwick who in turn pushed Park back until a Warcup penalty gave Alnwick a 3 – 0 lead at the interval.

A penalty to Park put Alnwick under pressure early in second half but a Warcup penalty took play to Park’s 22 where they were caught offside and some back-chat cost them a further ten yards.

With the penalty now on Park’s 5m line and three points almost guaranteed, Alnwick opted for a set scrum which seemed hugely illogical as this was the one area were Park had been nudging ahead.

A quick strike and an unconverted try would have left Park two scores behind but their pack thwarted Alnwick’s plan and cleared the threat for a line-out on their own 22.

Pike’s kick following the lineout gave Moralee the chance to run the ball but as Alnwick tried to deal with another kick, a Park steal put full-back Grove over in the corner for an unconverted try and a 3 – 5 lead.

Further scores looked inevitable as for the next 25 minutes Park’s raw forward bulk coupled with some dangerous breaks by their backs stretched Alnwick’s scrambling defence, but they held out and although Park missed a kickable penalty it looked as if they had done enough to win.

Into the last five minutes and from an Alnwick line-out on their own 10 metre line, winger Moralee hacked on a loose ball towards Park’s line. Still ahead of the chase as he crossed into Park’s 22 and favourite to win the footrace, he was tripped by his closest pursuer. Whether accidental or deliberate, and lacking the scoring probability needed to consider a penalty try, referee Charlton allowed play to continue enabling the defence to beat centre Robinson to the ball.

A collective sigh of relief from Park at this escape died in their throats as they conceded a kickable penalty on their own 22 whilst trying to clear the danger. ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’ and stand-off Warcup gave no hint of any inner turmoil as he slotted the kick for 6 – 5 to loud Alnwick cheers and the dull thud of disappointed Park hearts hitting their boots.

In the remaining 90 seconds, Park gamely worked methodically to try and gain field position in the hope of a penalty or drop goal but Alnwick’s miserly defence was again tightly organised and the ball ran into touch as time finally ran out.

If Park feel deprived and frustrated at having their pockets picked at the last knockings, they should realise that it was their inability to convert abundant possession and territorial advantage into points that cost them.