Hull Ionians 22 v 15 Preston Grasshoppers
By Malcolm Knowles
Ionians overcome late rally to maintain tilt at title.
Ionians overcame potentially their most difficult remaining hurdle in this defeat of in-form Preston Grasshoppers and it now looks like a two horse race for the N2N title, following Chester’s second half demolition of third placed Huddersfield.
Ionians and Chester are tied on 99 points, eleven clear of the chasing pair, with three games to play. It is unlikely either Fylde or Huddersfield can overcome such a deficit but Ionians cannot afford any complacency, even though Chester have a difficult run-in with fixtures against Sedgley Park, Otley and ‘hoppers to come.
So, Ionians fate is in their own hands and should they display the fortitude and resolve Martyn Wood and his team have instilled in the side in the last two games (or more accurately for a good hour of the last two games) then they ought to garner maximum points in their remaining fixtures. Only time will tell.
For the second week in a row Ionian’s challenge lay in overcoming a pack that had given them a torrid time in the corresponding fixture. At Lightfoot Green the Preston pack had shunted Ionians unceremoniously around the plastic pitch to give No8 Matt Lamprey licence to cause mayhem. Ionians only option was to man up and stop a repeat performance.
The challenge was set and accepted, with the home side starting in imposing style, winning a penalty at the scrum for Lewis Minikin to stroke over to give Ionians the lead in the eighth minute.
Preston had a period of possession and good field position but the Ionians defence held and the ever impressive James Sanderson won a penalty allowing Ionians to clear their lines.
Minikin and James Tinknell combined to break three quarters the length of the pitch but the break-down resulted in a ‘hoppers scrum, Lamprey picked up from the base and drove through the first line of cover and ‘hoppers were able to work their way back up into the home 22.
Davidson kicked a penalty to the corner but try as they might the bulky Preston pack made little inroad and when they lost possession Bunting hoofed the ball clear. Play went to the other end of the pitch, with Tinknell again the architect of Ionians attacking thrust, where dangerous play earned the hosts a penalty which was despatched into touch. James Newman leapt like a salmon to seize the ball at the back of the line and supply a pass to Ben Stephenson, peeling round from the touchline and he dropped his shoulder to burrow over for the opening try. Minikin added the extras and Ionians held a 10 point lead five minutes from the break.
Ionians used successful line-out ball to extend the lead, this time switching play wide to Seremaias Turagabeci who slotted a grubber kick through the advancing Preston players for Toni Kuku to gather and acrobatically dot down. Minikin added a magnificent goal to put Ionians 17 – 0 in the lead.
From the re-start Ionians went further ahead; Callum Smith, on for Kuku who injured himself in the act of scoring, fielded the ball and cut through the midfield to set Minikin free. With half a yard of space and only one man to beat the try was a formality and Minikin raced 60m to add his 17th try of the season. He was unable to add the goal but Ionians had a comfortable 22 – 0 advantage.
Preston, who had sustained themselves with judiciously taken rests throughout the opening hour, found their second wind and hit back with a try from effervescent winger, Tyler Spence, who won the race to touch down a ball hacked over the line. Davidson’s goal attempt came back off the up rights.
He made no such mistake minutes later when he added the goal to a Matt Lamprey try, the result of Preston’s persistence, with successive penalties been put into touch to allow the rejuvenated pack to bullock over from close range.
Ionians were under pressure for the remaining five minutes, aided by some mystifying decisions from Mr Wood. The home defence appeared unbreachable and pragmatism dictated that Preston accepted three points on offer, late in the game, to leave with a bonus point for their labours.
Three games remain, book an early appointment at the surgery for your blood pressure tablets, there’ll be a queue.