By Robert Tunley at Brickfields
Plymouth Albion broke free from three games without a win as they put away second placed Ampthill & District in a nail biter at Brickfields.
The huge National League One win puts Albion back on track and beating a team with such a fantastic record this season will fuel their confidence.
After coming so close to winning each of their past three games, head coach Kieran Hallett was left smiling after his team’s performance.
He said: “It’s nice to be on the right end of a close result for the first time in a while.
“Our defence was outstanding, I think that defensive effort in the first half won us the game.
“To go in at half time ahead into that wind was difficult.
“There’s still a lot to look at in discipline, defensively they didn’t put us under too much pressure, but we let them get into field position through silly things we didn’t need to do.
“Overall, I’m really happy with that, we beat the second team in the league at home, we’ll definitely celebrate that one tonight.”
Albion’s lone try scorer, Matthew Crosscombe, was also delighted at the side’s win saying:
“It was a great game, Ampthill were a tough side but we knew at home this was a hard place to come to, so the boys stuck with it and, fair play, we came out on top.
“Every single home game the crowd absolutely brings it, which motivates us to give 110%.”
If a game were to follow the cliché of ‘a tale of two halves,’ then this was Albion’s to enjoy.
In the opening minutes of play, both teams played the kicking game in an effort to test each other’s lines and scrambling ability.
With the wind at their backs, it was Ampthill that quickly took a dominant hold on the game, keeping Albion inside of their own 22 and off the ball.
The game of two brilliant defensive efforts had begun.
But for all the attacks Ampthill put up, valiant Albion repelled, even when it seemed certain tries were about to be scored. The forwards especially shined brightest through the mud, winning crucial line-outs on their 5-meter line and gaining the ball during the breakdown of play.
What hampered the home side though, like so many other outings this autumn, was their lack of discipline early in the game. Quickly penalties began to rack up, preventing any break out effort from Ampthill’s strangle hold on possession.
Jack Arnott made the play of the half, after he stretched out to stop Ampthill’s James Pritchard from scoring unopposed in the corner. The try-saving one on one tackle surprised the speedy winger who thought he was home free, and the subsequent knock on ended Ampthill’s most promising attempt at the line.
Albion were lucky not to go 6 points down mid-way through the half, as Ampthill’s number 10, Joshua Sharp, missed two easy penalties, both in front of the uprights. This lack of precision would leave Sharp off kicking duties for the rest of the afternoon as Pritchard took over and enjoyed immediate success, scoring the first points of the afternoon, leaving the score 3-0 after 30 minutes.
Albion’s Dan Collier would receive the first of the team’s two yellow cards but, despite conceding the resulting penalty kick, Albion didn’t seem at all phased going a man down.
Their first possession of the half saw them narrowly miss scoring as a through ball struck the crossbar, denying another certain try. The side weren’t disheartened though as Albion finally found a way through with Crosscombe touching down in the corner during their third and final possession before the whistle. Mugford would convert a tricky kick to put Albion ahead going into the lockers 7-6.
In a half where Ampthill held 90% of the possession and 85% of the game’s territory with the wind on their side, the try clearly enthused Albion who showed exactly what they were capable of if they could just retain possession.
Now came Albion’s turn to control the second half as early mistakes were improved on and handling errors began to afflict Ampthill who, up to that point, had played a tight game.
The visitors would go ahead for the last time, off the reliable boot of Pritchard, but Mugford responded with another three converted penalties in 20 minutes to put crucial points on the board.
With Albion ahead by only 7 points, the bumper Armed Forces Day crowd began to will on their side in full voice as the rain fell ever heavier, slowing play down to a crawl made up of mauls and stoppages, as players from both sides began to tire and cramp.
Albion would enjoy the same field positioning Ampthill gained in the first half, using the wind to keep all play within the opposite twenty-two. But with 10 minutes left, the visitors mounted one last concerted effort to level the game and salvage important points, leaving spectators and coaches alike on the edge of their seats.
Unfortunate penalties gave Ampthill the chance they were looking for, immediately opting to kick for touch. For the next 5 minutes Albion put up perhaps their most spirited defence of the year, holding back the ball time and time again. Even with captain Grace yellow carded, Albion were adamant it was their time to win yet another close game.
Jack Arnott would again provide last minute excitement, making a perfectly executed tackle that prevented Ampthill from scoring.
After what seemed like an eternity, the final whistle blew to the jubilation of the crowd.
On his return from injury, Albion’s Sean Lonsdale reflected on his side’s terrific second half.
“I think the main factor was our discipline. In the first half we got a yellow card and gave away too many penalties, so we talked about it in the changing room at half time. That was the only part of the game they were getting and we were giving it to them.
“So in the second half we cut down the penalties which showed in our increase in possession, meaning we could control the game a lot more.”
Lonsdale would add: “That was a massive win and puts us in a good place, especially playing Coventry next.”
Coventry is fixture that Crosscombe also looks forward to, “Yeah Coventry is a big game but they’re beatable, and we’re definitely the team to beat them and I believe we can.”
With such an important moral boost, Albion will look to continue their momentum in a tough fixture away to league leaders Coventry in two weeks’ time.
15 Jack Arnott, 19 Matthew Crosscombe, 13 Dean Squire, 12 Harvey Skinner, 11 Setareki Raumakita, 10 Daniel Mugford, 9 Joe Snow, 1 William Norton, 28 Rupert Freestone, 3 Daniel Pullinger, 18 Sean Lonsdale, 16 Daniel Collier, 5 John Kelly, 7 George Mills, 8 Eoghan Grace
30 Marcus Street, 26 James Salter, 29 Daniel Swain, 23 Cameron Setter, 20 Matthew Shepherd
15 Karim Lynch, 14 James Pritchard, 13 Samuel Hanks, 12 Elliott Reeder, 11 Nigel Baker, 10 Joshua Sharp, 9 Kevin Barrett, 1 Toby Trinder, 2 Aleki Lutui, 3 Karl Garside, 4 Paino Hehea, 5 Joshua Walker, 6 Billy Johnson, 7 Joseph Bercis, 8 Maama Molitika
16 Joshua Taylor, 17 Ramaz Rukhadze, 18 Haloti Molitika, 19 Stefanes Liebenberg, 20 Sam Sterling
Albion – 1 (Crosscombe)
Ampthill – 0
Albion: Mugford: 3
Ampthill: Pritchard: 3
Albion: Mugford 1
Albion – 2 (Collier, Grace)
Ampthill – 1 (Walker)
Red cards: 0
Man of the match: Daniel Collier
Referee: Veryan Boscawen