Bedford Athletics’ recent winning run came to an end as they went down to a 26-20 defeat at Huntingdon.
A spirited performance from Huntingdon, coupled with poor execution from the visitors and questionable refereeing decisions, saw the hosts edge a game in which both sides scored two tries.
Remarkably, Bedford Athletic took the lead after just 32 seconds as a poor clearance kick was run back with interest by the backs, ending in a try in the corner for Tom Dolemore which was converted by James Mortimer.
Within five minutes Mortimer had added a penalty, but a worrying tone had already been set with the referee stopping play for every perceived indiscretion – halting any flow or continuity that might have been generated.
Huntingdon responded to their early set-back well with a couple of driving mauls and an accurate pick and drive game earning them two penalties of their own converted by Tad Chapman.
Once Athletic were able to carry play back into the home side’s half, it was they who got the benefit of the decisions; with Mortimer adding another penalty for a seemingly innocuous offside offence on 22 minutes.
Errors were now creeping into Athletics’ game on a more general basis, and a dropped ball, penalty concession for offside and a clearance kick that went straight into touch saw them move from an attacking position in the home side’s 22 to defending in their own.
A catch and drive routine from a Huntingdon lineout saw Bedford Athletic concede a penalty, and the subsequent penalty kick to touch saw play move within seven metres of the visitors’ line.
On this occasion Huntingdon failed to secure the ball cleanly from the throw and subsequently dropped it and knocked it out of play.
The referee, however, was still intently watching the aborted maul, now lacking its most important component – the ball – and having felt he saw another infringement from the visitors, promptly set off under the posts to award a penalty try.
Once the ball could be retrieved from where it had come to rest amongst the spectators, Chapman kicked the conversion to tie the scores at 13-13 at half-time.
Discipline was clearly going to be an important factor in the second half, however the laws were being applied on this particular afternoon, and Athletic were soon on the wrong end of the referees decisions.
This allowed Huntingdon to build pressure close to their line, with prop forward Robbie Attwell eventually crashing over from a ruck for a try converted by Chapman.
The referee was this time unhappy with wing David Simpson whom he deemed to be standing offside fully 20 yards away from the ruck and, having awarded the try, walked across the pitch to flourish a yellow card as well.
Bedford’s response was immediate as they won a lineout and drove 20 metres to the Huntingdon line for Luke Levitt to score, with Mortimer’s conversion equalising matters.
With half an hour to play the game was there to be won, but the visitors continued to play without accuracy or fluency and every error was quickly punished by the referee’s whistle.
Huntingdon stuck to their task, looking to turn territory and possession into points, but resolute Athletic defence minimised their scoring chances.
Chapman did kick penalties on 67 and 72 minutes to give them the lead and, when Athletic had chances, they both missed touch from penalty kicks or literally threw away lineout possession with the ball being overthrown.
As a result they were chasing the game in the final minutes when they were once again penalised for holding on in the ruck. Having been marched back 25 metres or so for backchat, the visitors were fortunate that Huntingdon chose to kick the final penalty in front of the posts into touch and therefore retained the losing bonus point.
It was a difficult afternoon for Bedford Athletic, with Huntingdon deserving credit for the way they managed the conditions and deprived their visitors of scoring chances.
Athletic were left to reflect on poor decision making, poor game management and poor skill levels.
They have a week’s break to reflect before a return to action to defend their fourth place in the table against fifth place Ilkeston who are the visitors to Putnoe Woods on January 31.