Miners Rangers embedded themselves a little more firmly in the top six pack with this tense win over fellow play-off hopefuls Thatto. Both sides appeared acutely aware of the importance of this match as the game was riddled with handling errors and penalties, but despite the frustrations and the stop-start nature of the game this was an invaluable victory for the home side as they opened a three point gap on the chasing pack.
Miners were without Ross Bradley, Scott O’Brien and John Woods for this game, although Adam Thomason returned after missing the trip to Skirlaugh and Shaun Marsh was a late switch from the bench to the starting line-up. Thatto welcomed their stocky schemer Andy Stott back in at stand-off whilst youngster Jack Jones started in the centres inside dangerman Darren Woods and experienced campaigner Johnny Hughes lined up in the opposite centre berth.
Miners opened at a blistering pace and three times cut through the Crusaders’ defence down the right channel only for the chance to be squandered. First Ryan Ravenscroft lost the ball under pressure from Darren Woods, then Marsh galloped through but his pass inside to Aaron Gorton fell for the Thatto Heath cover instead. The home side were eventually indebted to Thatto for the opening score as Kieron Maddocks threw out a pass on halfway which was intercepted by Ravenscroft and the youngster sprinted in from half-way for a deserved try, Jonny Youds adding the first of his five goals. However Miners were soon left ruing their earlier missed opportunities as Thatto hit back with two tries in three minutes. First Darren Woods drove to the line and managed to offload for the supporting Shaun Quinn to dart through the gap and reduce the deficit, then Miners returned the earlier compliment as they inexplicably gifted an intercept with an ambitious pass from a scrum under their own sticks, Chris Frodsham scarcely able to believe his luck as he went under the posts, Quinn goaling. The see-saw nature of the game already appeared determined and Miners themselves responded quickly as they exerted some pressure and with numbers queuing up on the top side Liam Coleman sent the pass out for Lee Gittins to gather on the half-volley and stride over the line, Youds again goaling. Five minutes before the break and the home side had an eight point lead as Danny Jones broke down the middle before being halted just inside the Thatto half, Jimmy Muir spreading play left and Gittins putting Thomason racing through for his first, Youds converting for 18-10.
The first try of the second half was always going to set the tone for the remainder of the game and came the way of Thatto to ensure the match remained on a knife-edge. Lively substitute Alex McClurg dabbed a deft kick behind the lines of the Miners’ right channel and Darren Woods gathered to put his centre Jones in for the try. Miners though continued the tit-for-tat as Coleman again showed his strength near the line, ploughing through and grounding the ball despite being twisted onto his back, Youds goaling for 24-14. Now it was Thattos’ turn and Stott flighted the kick out to the left wing, Ravenscroft and Woods jumping and missing but the ball finding its way through for Jamie Clarke to score. Miners replied with a Youds penalty after Thatto were found guilty of stealing the ball but the Crusaders broke the try-trading trend as they scored again, Stott with the drop-off pass and Darren Woods bursting through the middle to score under the posts, Quinn goaling to make the score 26-24. It really was tense and taught now as both sides lived on their nerve ends, but with Kevin Howells and Darryl Kay providing tremendous go forward it was the home side who finished the stronger. Thomason helped calm the nerves with his second, following good work by Muir and Josh Ward to send the second-row bouncing off the tackles and scoring out wide, then the clincher with seven minutes remaining, Kay diving over the line for his first club try of the season to finally settle the contest.
Miners – Jonny Youds, Sean Pendlebury, Lee Gittins, Shaun Marsh, Ryan Ravenscroft, Liam Coleman, Josh Ward, Kevin Howells, Aaron Gorton, Darryl Kay, Adam Thomason, Danny Jackson, Dave Rowlands Subs – Danny Jones, Jimmy Muir, Tom Farrimond, Martin Lewis
Tries – Ravenscroft (10), Gittins (25), Thomason (35, 70), Coleman (50), Kay (73)
Goals – Youds 5
MoM – Kevin Howells
Thatto – Shaun Quinn, Darren Woods, Jack Jones, John Hughes, Adam Walsh, Andy Stott, Chris Frodsham, Mick Ledger, Kieron Maddocks, Martin Shea, Luke Bradshaw, Andy Lea, Steve Lucas Subs – Alex McClurg, James Clarke, Mark Beech, Steve Woods
Tries – Quinn (19), Frodsham (21), Jones (42), Clarke (58), D Woods (65)
Goals – Quinn 2
MoM – Alex McClurg
Referee – Craig Kay