Bedford Athletic snatched victory from the jaws of defeat as they completed a narrow 10-5 win away to Kettering.
Reduced to 14 men through a red card with 12 minutes left to play, the odds appeared stacked against them.
But the never say die attitude of the team shone through and a length of the field try in the final minutes secured what had become an unlikely win.
Initial exchanges were disrupted by the wind, and unfortunately for Athletic their first meaningful attack saw an injury to wing Tommy Mills and he had to depart the game.
The match did not open up until the 24th minute when Kettering No 8 Tom Spencer was shown a yellow card for tripping scrum-half Tom Orton at the back of the scrum.
Minutes later, with Nick Thomas starting to carry well for the visitors, the first proper chance of the game fell to fly-half James Mortimer but he was unable to get his pass away. Nevertheless he did convert a penalty kick before half-time to leave Bedford leading by the less than exciting margin of 3-0 at the break.
With the wind blowing across the pitch it gave no real advantage to either side and Bedford Athletic tried to get their running game going immediately from the restart.
Ponderous play in midfield saw two forwards penalised for a crossing offence and full-back Joe Daniel was able to kick Kettering deep into the visitors’ 22. A well executed catch and drive saw Kettering travel the remaining 15 yards to the Athletic line, with Shane Ling touching down at the back of the home side’s maul. Daniel missed the conversion.
On the hour mark Athletic had an excellent chance to regain the lead when a break down the left wing saw Steve Smith in the clear.
He just had to regather his kick ahead but a knock on kept the Kettering try line intact.
With 12 minutes to play Stefan Hughes Brand was red carded following an altercation at a midfield ruck; the penalty was drilled into the corner and Bedford were penalised again from the lineout.
This time, with a man advantage, Kettering opted for the scrum and the home pack appeared to have driven over the line only for the referee to award a knock-on to Athletic.
Led again by Nick Thomas, the visitors took their chance as they drove out of defence and, having stolen a Kettering lineout, David Simpson released Charlie Darlow and Paul Ryder down the right wing to carry play deep into the home side’s half.
From the next ruck, Mortimer fed Tom Rees and his perfectly timed offload put Steve Smith in the clear to score a scarcely believable try under the posts. Mortimer converted and the team saw out the final five minutes to snatch the win.
January has seen a run of difficult games against top of the table opposition but all four matches have been won and the month ends with Athletic leading Derby by eight points at the top of the table.
Attention turns to the cup this Saturday as Bedford Athletic visit Luton for an East Midlands Cup semi-final at Newlands Road. 2.30pm k/o