A dour performance from league leaders Bedford Athletic was just enough to see them over the line at near neighbours Huntingdon in a 21-16 victory on Saturday.
On the narrowest pitch in the Midlands 1 East League the visitors’ running game was not suited to the conditions and paid few dividends on an afternoon when game management and ultimately territory were the keys to success.
Huntingdon returned the visitor’s kick off with interest and a dropped ball immediately put them on the attack. They soon secured their first penalty with Dan Malem’s effort falling just short.
Bedford Athletic did not react quickly enough and conceded another penalty at the ensuing ruck for Malem to kick his first points of the day. From the kick off Athletic took the catcher out in the air and once more the penalty kick put Huntingdon on the offensive.
Despite their growing superiority at both scrum and lineout the visitors were struggling to retain possession elsewhere on the pitch. Several reset scrums in the visitors 22 led to the only scrum penalty of the day being awarded to Huntingdon, unusual in a game when the Athletic scrum was dominant. Malem duly kicked this for a 6-0 lead on 21 minutes.
When possession did come their way Bedford Athletic were wasteful, rarely kicking for territory and often running out of room when the ball was spread wide. Huntingdon meanwhile kept plugging away through the boot of Malem and he extended the home side’s lead with a penalty before halftime. Having conceded nine penalties throughout the first 40 minutes, Bedford Athletic finally secured one of their own on the stroke of half time for James Mortimer to narrow the gap to 9-3 at the break.
Athletic began the second half with far more pace and purpose. Josh Cassell made a break from a lineout, the move was carried on at speed for the length of the pitch and David Simpson added the finishing touches in the corner for an unconverted try.
Athletic were soon on the attack again and although this did not lead to a try scoring chance, Mortimer was able to kick a penalty to put Bedford Athletic into the lead for the first time in the match at 11-9. Once again though they did not clear their lines from the restart and Huntingdon scored a fortuitous try as a result. A Dan Malem penalty hit the post,
Athletic were slow to react and Robbie Polson ended up with the scoring touch for a try that Malem this time converted for a 16-11 lead.
Thereafter it was hard work for the visitors as they sought to gain a grip on the match and they were often repelled and by some distance through Malem’s boot. Eventually they did win a kicking duel and from an attacking lineout on the Huntingdon 22 were able to go through a series of phases that led to a try for captain Rob Watkins which Mortimer converted for an 18-16 lead.
Minutes later another great opportunity presented itself down the right wing but this time the ball was thrown to ground and Huntingdon once again kicked clear and drove the visitor’s deep into their own half. Malem had a penalty to retake the lead but missed and Mortimer then had a penalty to extend the lead and duly scored. Needing only to play for time and territory Bedford Athletic were again guilty of running the ball in front of their own posts and yet another penalty was conceded.
This time Malem had to drive the ball into the corner and Bedford Athletic kept their defensive shape and discipline successfully to defend two lineouts, one scrum and even held the ball up in goal to preserve their win.
Bedford Athletic showed sufficient character to extract themselves from a difficult situation in the second half with captain Watkins rallying the team to victory. They will look for a better performance when they entertain Ilkeston on Saturday with a 2.15pm start at Putnoe Wood.