Table toppers Derby inflicted Bedford Athletic’s first defeat of the season with a 31-20 success at the City of Derby.
Despite a second half comeback, Athletic could not overcome Derby’s first half four-try haul as the hosts’ win confirmed their position as league leaders.
An early break by Tommy Mills created the first scoring chance of the day as James Mortimer slotted the penalty to give Athletic the lead after two minutes.
A rumble by the home forwards saw them stopped just short of the line but fly-half George Castledine was able to exploit the gaps in the Athletic defence and send outside centre Ben Marlow over for the first try of the day which he converted.
On 17 minutes a similar situation presented itself as the referee spotted another indiscretion by the visitors in midfield, and Castledine nearly crossed before Marlow again touched down.
Trailing 14-3 and looking to get back into the game, the visitors were architects of their own downfall as failure to clear a cleverly paced Castledine kick saw Mortimer sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on, and Castledine kicked the penalty for a 17-3 lead.
Minutes later Derby exploited the extra man when the forwards rumbled the ball close to the Athletic line and drew in sufficient defenders for full-back McGrath Van Wyck to cross for their third try of the day on the left wing.
With half an hour played Bedford Athletic trailed 24-3, but to their credit they began to force their way back into the game.
From a strangely awarded Derby penalty justice was done as their kicker missed touch and Charlie Darlow ran the ball back down the left wing; his inside pass to Ben Johnson creating the first try of the day for the visitors.
This should have seen the match to half-time but, having worked tremendously hard to turnover an attacking Derby scrum, the backs decided to run the ball out of defence and a calamitous pass saw right wing Craig Hughes intercept for the bonus point try on the stroke of half time.
Trailing 31-8, Athletic could easily have folded in the second period but to their credit they came storming back.
The introduction of USA U20 scrum-half Nick Boyer changed the rhythm and tempo of the game and this allowed Tommy Mills to break the defensive cover for the visitors’ second try of the game on 43 minutes. Mortimer’s conversion narrowed the score to 31-15.
Derby had a chance to put the game out of sight on the hour mark but great scrambled defence from Athletic snuffed out the danger in the right hand corner.
As the half wore on Athletic grew into the game and, with five minutes to go and Derby a man short in the sin bin, Tom Albone crossed for a try to put Athletic in touching distance of a bonus point at 31-20.
The visitors successfully ran the ball deep into Derby’s half from the restart but they could not find a way over their hosts’ line.
Returning with no points from a difficult away game may impact Bedford Athletic’s long term league aspirations, but in the short term they now prepare to play unbeaten Huntingdon who visit Putnoe Woods this Saturday for a 3pm kick-off.