Old Albanian 25, Fylde 15
Fylde lost their top-four spot in National Three North after a disappointing defeat at relegation-threatened Albanian – their third in succession and seventh in 10 away games this season.
It was their second defeat in three visits to the well-appointed Woollams Ground, where the St Albans sid were good value for a victory which lifted them out of the bottom three.
OA won the toss and opted to play into the teeth of the gale blowing down the ground in the first half.
The early exchanges were nip and tuck, although Fylde had territorial advantage.
And after 15 minutes, the visitors worked space for centre Scott Rawlings to muscle over for his ninth try of the season. Chris Johnson kicked the conversion.
Five minutes later, Johnson extended the lead to 10-0 with a penalty.
But despite having more than their fair share of possession, the Lancastrians struggled to maximise the benefit of the strong wind at their backs.
They paid the price in the 32nd minute, when Albanian launched their first sustained attack of the game as scrum-half Jordi Pasqualin broke down the left and cleverly fed hooker George Warner, who scored well in the corner.
Centre Dan Watt converted exceptionally well into the wind to make it 10-7 at the break.
OA skipper and lock Billy Johnson will soon be linking up with four Fylde players when the England Counties squad prepare for their game against the Scotland Club XV at Fylde’s Woodlands ground at the end of this month.
And he did his representative team-mates no favours in the 48th minute, when Johnson surged forward and fed winger Mike Allen, who raced home from 40 metres out for a good try.
Watt’s attempted conversion drifted wide but he made up or this minutes later when he kicked a straightforward penalty for a 15-10 advantage.
The forward battle was being edged by OA and they continued to press for further points.
The coup de grace was applied in the 70th minute, when centre Dominic Regan broke through the visitors’ defence to score. Watt added the conversion for a 25-10 lead.
Fylde’s heads didn’t drop and they battled on in the pursuit of at least a losing bonus point.
In the 75th minute, a well worked move gave Scott Rawlings enough space to drive over in the corner for his second try, with defenders hanging off him.
Had Chris Johnson landed the very difficult conversion into the wind from near the touchline, his side would have secured a losing bonus point and remained fourth.
But summing up the day for the Lancastrians, the excellent kick drifted in the wind and hit a post.
Head coach Mark Nelson said: “We played with a howling gale at our backs in the first half and we failed to take sufficient advantage. We should have had a lead of 13 to 20 points but we failed to take our chances.
“On top of this, we gifted the opening OA try with some weak defence. As soon as they scored their second try they had the upper hand and thrived on it. They deserved their win but our lads battled hard throughout.
“Although we’ve now lost our last three games, there’s absolutely no panic among the coaches or players.
“This is a blip in form and we intend to turn this around against Darlington Mowden Park at the Woodlands on Saturday. We’re in a building phase, and we have another nine games this season to get back to form and pull out some important wins.
“There will be no anticlimax as we have to welcome the two leading clubs, Coventry and Ealing Trailfinders to the Woodlands.
“These will be very big games but we also have to look ahead to next season – a crucial one as come April 2016 league positions will determine the shape of 2016/7 competition following restructuring.”