Any aspirations of winning the league title disappeared as Bedford Athletic went down 13-3 at home to Old Northamptonians at the weekend.
The result leaves the visitors clear in second place in the table – and therefore in a prime position to qualify for the promotion playoffs – as they outmuscled their hosts to win by two tries to nil.
A competitive first period gave way to a very scrappy second in a game that overall lacked the quality that might have been hoped for in a contest between two of the top three in the table.
Early exchanges were combative and both sides had periods of pressure in the other’s 22, but these were snuffed out by strong defence – with Rob Watkins and Luke Levitt prominent for the home side and Phil Beaumont and Matt Mills for the visitors.
The deadlock was broken on 25 minutes when Alex Rose kicked a penalty for the visitors, but James Mortimer responded with a successful kick when a home attack was frustrated by an offside.
From the restart, Andy Ince carried the ball deep into visiting territory, but a prolonged period of pressure yielded no points for the home side as a second Mortimer penalty fell just short.
Old Northamptonians took advantage before half-time as a quick tap penalty taken in the midfield by Lewis Barker allowed his backs to outsprint their hosts to the line, with fly-half Rose coming up with the score which he himself failed to convert.
The best moments of the second half happened in the first five minutes as firstly ON’s had a penalty chance and then Charlie Reed caught the resulting 22 drop out to charge the length of the pitch, only for a wayward pass to halt the move.
Thereafter the game began to lose shape and fluency as the stoppages mounted up.
The fractious nature of the game spilled over into an exchange of blows that saw both Modestas Martinaitis for the home side and Jordan Finlayson-Green for the visitors disappear to the sin bin.
Bedford Athletic then repelled several attacks on their line, but eventually Beaumont picked up from the base of the scrum and charged over to score. Rose missed the conversion but a 13-3 lead had been established.
Athletic threw everything they had into the final 10 minutes to secure something from the game but, despite twice being camped on the visitors’ line, ONs managed to frustrate their attacks sufficiently to stop them being turned into points.