Ath relegated after Sandbach draw

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Bedford Athletic were relegated from National League Three Midlands after a 37-37 draw at Sandbach on Saturday.

An extraordinary match saw them outscore their hosts by six tries to three, yet still fail to come away with a win.

From the kick-off Sandbach gathered possession, drew a penalty and Ben Elliott slotted the first points of the day.

Having secured Athletic’s kick-off in turn Sandbach repeated the dose and Elliott made it 6-0 in the fifth minute with Bedford yet to touch the ball.

The visitors’ response was emphatic. From a lineout, Stephen Woodhead created extra space and the ball was quickly moved across the back line for Stuart Livesey to score in the left corner.

Andy Ince caught the restart and punched holes in the home defence before Livesey and Charlie Darlow linked up well allowing Darlow to touch down by the posts. James Mortimer kicked the conversion.

On 20 minutes Woodhead again made ground up the middle and this time play was switched to the right where Steve Smith was on hand to score, although the conversion missed.

Six minutes later it was Ben Beagent who broke through and when the ball was recycled he finished off his own good work with a try that brought up the Athletic bonus point on 26 minutes.

On the half-hour, Elliott slotted a penalty and when a loose pass went to ground the pendulum swung Sandbach’s way as they hacked through, forced a five-metre scrum and a penalty try.

This was converted and although Bedford missed with a penalty of their own shortly after, they led 22-16 at the break.

Elliott reduced the gap with another penalty from half-way just after the restart but this didn’t diminish Athletic’s scoring appetite.

On 45 minutes it was Smith who jinked through the home defence, setting up a ruck from where play was spread to the right for John Clarke to score.

Seven minutes later Bedford ran the ball from a lineout and Darlow finished off for his second of the day, Mortimer’s conversion advancing the lead to 34-19.

Once again Elliott reduced the arrears with a penalty and from the kick-off, Sandbach ran the ball back through the entire Bedford side for Liam Carpenter to score, Elliott’s conversion hitting the post.

Elliott was successful with his sixth penalty in the 63rd minute to make it 34-30 and Sandbach took the lead when a fortuitous ricochet landed in the hands of wing Elliott Morris to cross with 13 minutes left. Elliott’s conversion made it 37-34.

By now Sandbach appeared to have the momentum but the visitors held firm and it was a successful Mortimer penalty with two minutes left which brought the draw.

When news filtered through that Longton had come from 32-14 down to beat Derby in the final minute, Bedford’s relegation was confirmed. They next host Sheffield on Saturday at Putnoe Wood (3pm kick off).