ESHER 26 FYLDE 24: Full report and reaction

Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson
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Fylde suffered yet more last-minute disappointment in this see-saw game at Esher.

This was an exciting showcase for National One rugby but once again the Lancastrians had victory snatched from their grasp at the death.

The lead changed six times before a final penalty by Esher full-back Alastair Chisholm sealed victory for the home side.

It made for a long journey home for the Fylde party as they were delayed by rail difficulties, as had been the case on the outward journey that morning.

But there were a number of positives, including a very hard-working display and lots of bright, attacking rugby.

Esher started strongly and led 6-0 after 134 minutes thanks to two penalties converted by Chisholm.

In the 18th minute Fylde hit back with a typical backs try, several attacking phases ending with the ball moving left for Oli Brennand to beat the cover and touch down in the corner for his 13th try of the season.

Fly-half Chris Johnson was unable to add the conversion from wide out but he would have more than his fair share of influence as the game progressed. It was Esher’s turn to exert pressure next, and on the half-hour their driving maul was illegally brought down. Chisholm missed the penalty but this was a temporary reprieve.

Esher centre Tom James made a break, and a few phases later fly-half Michael Wilson hoisted a pinpoint cross-kick to the corner, where speedy winger Spencer Sutherland gathered well and scored his 18th try of a very productive season.

Chisholm converted beautifully from the touchline and Esher had a 13-5 lead.

In the last minute of the half, Fylde launched an attack deep into home territory. They retained possession well and set up a driving maul which was brought down virtually on the try-line.

Referee Matt Turvey had no option but to award the penalty try. Johnson added the conversion from in front of the posts and Fylde were right back in the contest at 13-12.

There was stalemate after half-time until the 53rd minute, when Fylde’s pressure earned a penalty from a scrum and Johnson kicked Fylde into the lead for the first tiem.

Two minutes later, Fylde were again deep in the Esher half and Johnson seized the opportunity to kick a neat drop goal to stretch the lead to 18-13.

It was then Esher’s turn to take the play to Fylde, and after scrum-half Andy Garner took a quick tap-penalty inside the 22, former Fylde number eight Harrison Collins drove over for the try. Chisholm converted and his side was back in front at 20-18.

The rollercoaster contest took another twist in the 67th minute, when Johnson took advantage of good field position to land his second drop goal and edge Fylde in front.

As the minutes ticked by, the tension increased and another Chisholm penalty put Esher 23-21 up on 74 minutes.

This lead lasted barely a minute until record National League pointscorer Johnson’s third drop goal left Fylde close to a deserved victory at 24-23.

But their discipline again let them down as David Fairbrother committed a high tackle and was sinbinned. Chisholm nudged Esher ahead once more from the subsequent penalty.

That wasn’t the end of the drama as Fylde launched a final attack and won a penalty just inside the Esher half.

Johnson had a difficult chance to land a matchwinning goal but his kick fell just short and Esher celebrated a double over Fylde in the most dramatic style.

Fylde head coach Paul Arnold said: “It was déjà vu in so many ways. Our rail journey was delayed 90 minutes and that didn’t help us prepare.

“We played positive rugby against a very decent Esher squad. There were a number of strong individual performances to give plenty of encouragement for the rest of the season.

“But once again we made one or two mistakes and bad decisions which cost us dearly, and we were on the wrong end of a decision by the otherwise very sound referee in the final minutes.

“It’s these small margins that are critical. Even then, we had a chance in the last minute when Jonno almost gave us victory with a penalty kick.

“This is the eighth game this season we have lost by seven points or under. Leading the ‘losing bonus points’ table is little consolation. To round off a frustrating day, we were delayed on the train journey home too!

“It was a great game to watch for the spectators. Esher were delighted to have pulled the game out of the fire, but they were gracious opponents afterwards and recognised we could, maybe should, have won it.

“Unfortunately, Tom Lavelle suffered some concussion and will sit out the mandatory period. We should have Sam Beaumont, Simon Griffiths and Joe Robinson available for selection for the Blaydon match at the Woodlands on Saturday.”

Fylde: Dorrington; Brennand, Briers, Dowds, Spragg; Johnson, Nicholls; Birchall, Burtonwood, Lavelle, Gray, G Rawlings, Vernon, Stewart, Fairbrother; replacements: Lewis, Mills, Arnold, S Rawlings, Morton.