A controversial late penalty denied youthful Miners a draw at Kells and dealt a blow to their hopes of finishing second. With a host of players unavailable for varying reasons five of the current under-18s were in the matchday squad travelling north whilst Allan Coleman donned his boots once more to complete the bench. Kells, struggling in recent weeks in their debut season in the Premier Division, are nonetheless a stern proposition on home soil although the absence of schemer Tyrone Dalton was a blow in the halves.
On a fine early autumn afternoon on the Whitehaven clifftop, albeit on a heavy pitch which had required a team of volunteers to bail out standing water ahead of kick-off, Miners opened brightly and full of confidence. Early pressure had Kells backed onto their own line and after Tom Farrimond was held short of the line the ball was worked left and Andrew Groves put Todd Fenlon in past his opposite number and over for the try, Jonny Youds with the goal. Within three minutes the lead was doubled as Scott O’Brien hoisted the bomb and havoc ensued in the Kells defence as fullback and winger dithered and Youds challenged successfully for the ball before putting Groves over for the walk-in try. At this stage it had been one-way traffic but Kells gained a foothold and some slick play near the line had big centre Scott Lofthouse crashing through the tackles to touch down, Ross Gainford with the goal. Miners though restored their cushion with another calamity from fullback Lewis Smith as he fielded the kick but then lost the ball in the tackle to gift Connor Ratcliffe the easiest try he will ever score and rich reward for a fine game in the back row. From the kick-off though and Kells had the ball back and they worked possession left for Martin O’Neill to finish at the corner. However at the interval Miners held an encouraging 20-10 advantage as Youds kicked a penalty for ripping the ball.
Fired up by some stern words from coach Peter Smith Kells roared out of the blocks with a devastating ten minute spell which ultimately cost Miners the game just as surely as the late penalty as the Cumbrians piled on eighteen points and Miners were briefly but catastrophically blown away. First Ben Milburn crashed through the tackles to slide in for the try and then within three minutes some good drives by the home pack set the position for O’Neill to score at the corner, Gainford’s goal putting the hosts ahead for the first time in the match. The onslaught hadn’t finished there and veteran prop Dave Lowery stepped inside the line and shrugged off the tackles to score beside the posts and an easy conversion for 28-20. Miners were stunned and with fullback Will Ashworth suffering a game-ending injury early in proceedings were effectively left with just two substitutes, meaning an arduous afternoon at the coal face for Ratcliffe, Mark Nicholson, Darryl Kay and Chris Bower. However the visitors rallied and by the hour were back in the game when Jordan Hellam dived over from acting half. With five minutes remaining the scores were deservedly level as O’Brien flighted a kick to the left wing and as the Kells winger missed the ball Fenlon gathered to score out wide. A draw would probably have been the fair result but with time ticking Kells were awarded a controversial late penalty as Gainford made the most out of a challenge as he kicked the ball and referee and touch judge colluded to mistakenly award the penalty almost twenty metres closer to the posts than where the ball had actually been fielded by the Miners’ defence. Such had been Gainford’s prowess that afternoon he may well have landed the winning goal had the penalty been awarded in the correct location but the error turned a probability into a formality as the Kells’ stand-off booted the two points from under the posts to rob Miners of their merited share of the spoils.
Kells – Lewis Smith, Scott Nichol, Craig Benson, Scott Lofthouse, Martin O’Neill, Ross Gainford, Grant McLoughlin, Dave Lowery, Troy Armstrong, Ross Ainley, Ben Milburn, Lewis Wilson, Tony Burns Subs – Grant Gainford, Bailey Morton, Jake Parker, Barry Boyd
Tries – Lofthouse (22), O’Neill (36, 48), Milburn (45), Lowery (51)
Goals – R Gainford 5
Miners – Will Ashworth, Todd Fenlon, Jonny Youds, Joe Digby, Lewis Grimes, Andrew Groves, Scott O’Brien, Chris Bower, Jordan Hellam, Darryl Kay, Mark Nicholson, Connor Ratcliffe, Tom Farrimond Subs – Jake Lloyd, Elliott Liku, Kyle Disley, Allan Coleman
Tries – Fenlon (6, 74), Groves (9), Ratcliffe (33), Hellam (61)
Goals – Youds 4
Referee – Nick Woodward