Another disappointing day for Fylde RFC at Hull Ionians saw them beaten 34-22 on Saturday.
Fylde have often struggled at the impressive Brantingham Park ground, and on a lovely, sunny day for rugby, it was to be their fourth successive defeat to the Yorkshiremen.
However, the afternoon started in the best possible way when Fylde raced out of the blocks and opened the scoring in the second minute.
Returning centre Ralph Dowds made a lovely break through the Ionians midfield and his partner, Connor Wilkinson, was on his shoulder to take the pass and score near the posts.
This was Wilkinson’s 14th try in a very productive season for the talented centre and fly-half Greg Smith added the conversion.
Ionians’ skipper, full-back Lewis Minikin, punished a Fylde indiscretion in the sixth minute with a good penalty kick and then doubled this in the 14th to reduce the deficit to 7-6.
Smith replied with a penalty of his own in the 24th minute to keep Fylde clear at 10-6 but Ionians ratcheted up the pressure and, on the half-hour, they took a lead they were never to relinquish.
They won a lineout near the Fylde line and number eight Ed Falkingham took the ball cleanly to set up the driving maul.
This was decisive and hooker Ben Stephenson was the last man up to claim the try.
Minikin converted well from near the touchline and Ionians were 13-10 in front at the interval.
The third quarter was a fierce battle for supremacy between two well-matched sides.
Fylde indiscipline wasn’t helping their cause and scrum-half Gus Warr saw yellow for a remark to the referee in the 54th minute.
With the visitors having to reorganise in consequence, a flurry of activity on the hour brought two scores.
In the 57th minute, following more pressure from the Ionians forwards on the Fylde line, the ball was smuggled to winger Toni Kuku who powered over for the try from short range.
Minikin’s conversion gave his side a 20-10 lead but, a couple of minutes later and still down to 14 players, Fylde hit back through the usually dependable pace and trickery of full-back Tom Carleton.
The ever-dangerous young talent combined with his former Kirkham Grammar mate Wilkinson to score a beautiful try, his 17th of the season.
Carleton started the move from well inside his own half, exchanged passes with Wilkinson, and raced straight through the middle of the Ionians defence to score under the posts.
Smith’s conversion put his side right back in the mix at just 20-17 in arrears.
Alas, Fylde’s push for the lead came to nothing as Ionians took advantage of some fallible defending from the visitors.
In the 70th minute, as Ionians pressed inside the Fylde half, a missed tackle let in replacement Adam Brown who dummied his way to score under the posts.
Minikin converted once again to put serious daylight between the teams at 27-17.
Fylde fought their way back downfield and were denied by a try-saving tackle by Ionians centre James Tincknell.
Then, a clearance kick into the Fylde half led to a tricky bounce of the ball which deceived Carleton and Minikin was the beneficiary, scoring under the posts.
He converted his own try to end the day with a personal haul of 19 points.
Fylde heads didn’t drop and they scored a consolation last minute try when winger Tom Grimes finished off a neat move out wide.
Smith was unable to add the conversion and the game ended with Ionians winning by 34-22; a slightly flattering scoreline but a deserved victory.
Defeat means that Fylde slip from first to fourth in National Two North with Ionians regaining top spot.
Huddersfield lurk dangerously in third place, a point behind the leaders but with a home game in hand and seven successive victories behind them.
They look favourites to top the division come the end of April but there is plenty of time for late drama in this very well competed league.
Fylde: Carleton; Hadfield (Botha 40), Dowds, Wilkinson, Grimes; Smith, Warr (Crampton 68); Rodd, Gregory, Lewis (Ford 68), Ashcroft, Garrod, O’Ryan, Dugdale, Vernon (Corrie 74). Non-playing replacement: Horner.