Fylde’s promotion hopes suffered an almost fatal blow when they lost a hard-fought battle at Threshfield against a very competitive North Yorkshire side.
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The atmosphere in a crowd of almost 800 was superb at the beautiful Dales venue but Fylde’s build-up was hardly ideal. Skipper Adam Lewis was unavailable and his replacement Adam Joyner was a late injury withdraw. This saw Matt Ashcroft make only his second start in a very young front row.
Number eight Jacob Conner was injured in the warm-up, meaning Ben O’Ryan stepped up from the bench. With no other registered replacement to hand, head coach Warren Spragg completed the team.
The early drama saw Fylde flanker Harlan Corrie yellow-carded, and from the resulting kick to the corner Wharfedale rumbled over for a try from a driving maul. Hooker Dan Stockdale scored it and fly-half Jack Blakenley-Edwards converted.
With Corrie back in the action, a Fylde attack was stopped illegally. Fly-half Greg Smith converted the 13th-minute penalty and another four minutes later to reduce the deficit to 7-6.
The Fylde lineout was productive but the physical battle was intense and the visitors struggled to hold the powerful Wharfedale pack in the scrums despite switching their front five around.
The dangerous Fylde backline had limited chances to test the Wharfedale defence but when an opportunity arose in the 22nd minute they took it with aplomb.
Fylde stole a home lineout on halfway and went through 14 phases before winger Henry Hadfield squeezed in at the right corner for a very good try. Smith kicked a beautiful conversion from the touchline to give Fylde a 13-7 lead.
Wharfedale responded strongly and were back in front two minutes later. Having forced a turnover from the restart, Dale winger Oli Cicognini danced through the Fylde defence with superb footwork.
His try between the sticks left a straightforward goal for Blakeney-Edwards which turned out to be the final score of the game.
Fylde suffered another injury blow on 31 minutes, when lock Olli Parkinson limped off. At the same time, Elliot Horner made his return after a long injury lay-off in place of loose-head prop Bevan Rodd.
Fylde attacked vigorously in the closing moments of the first half, but Smith missed a kickable penalty and his team squandered a glorious try-scoring chance as Wharfedale retained the narrowest of leads .
The second half was a battle royal as both teams searched for the killer blow. Wharfedale shaded possession and territory but Fylde had their moments.
The reverse clash last December had been won by the nerveless Smith’s last-minute penalty. But on 51 minutes his penalty attempt from almost in front of the posts glanced off the woodwork.
Fylde held their ground under pressure but were unable to break the deadlock at the other end throughout a second half which was scoreless but very far from dull.
The claim afterwards by Wharfedale’s colourful PA announcer ‘Adge’ that his side had ‘ asphyxiater’ Fylde was pretty accurate.
A losing bonus actually lifted Fylde back above Huddersfield into third place in National Two North, but wins for Hull Ionians and Chester left them looking bankers for the top two positions – they are 11 points clear of the Woodlands club with just 15 left to play for.
Fylde: Carleton, Hadfield, Briers, Wilkinson, Grimes’ Smith, Crampton (Dowds 89); Rodd (Horner 31), Gregory, M Ashcroft (Rodd 56), Garrod, Parkinson (N Ashcroft 31), Corrie, O’Ryan (Loney 48, Vernon.