In a strong return to form, Plymouth Albion were able to edge their way past Birmingham Moseley in a thrilling 28-24 National League One victory at Brickfields.
The game was a close fought affair for all 80 minutes, with a last gasp try from Matthew Shepherd putting Albion ahead with the last play of the game.
After scoring the winning points for his side, Shepherd was full of admiration for the visitors, after their spirited play took the game down to the wire. He said:
“Obviously for Birmingham it must be a bit gutting to lose on the last play of the game.
“They played outstanding and brought great tempo but, credit to the lads, we put a shift in. It wasn’t our best, but we managed to stick at it.”
Although the try looked secure from the moment Shepherd caught the ball, the full back described his nervousness as the game rested on his shoulders. He said:
“Yeah, I was nervous, as the play went on we were dropping balls left right and centre, I don’t know whether it was made of soap today, but it was good to catch the ball, good to score and get the bonus point win for the lads.”
Albion head coach, Kieran Hallett, was full of emotion after the game, and described watching his team in mixed light. He said:
“It kind of varies from the sublime to the incredibly frustrating.
“Every time we put a bit of energy and ball retention into our attack, we scored, the only problem is we did it four times in the game.
“I’m not sure if it’s the fact we’ve had to mix and match personnel a lot half way through the year, so we’re not at the point we should be.
“All in all, to go from five metres from our own line, struggling with a few minutes to go, to marching back up the other end to get a score, was very pleasing.”
Even though his players pulled off another home win, with five minutes to play in the game, and three points behind, twice the decision was made on field to kick for touch, rather than points. Hallett was quick to support his players decision making, saying:
“I’d always go for it, if you’ve got the chance go for a win, you’ve got to be aggressive and take it.
“A draw is okay but it’s nothing really to us, we’d much rather go for the corner, and if the guys have been mauling well and want to have a shot, then great, go for it, be aggressive.”
Hallett finally praised his younger players for another strong outing, he said:
“I think they’re making progress every week, Luke Flack played well again today, Lewis Pearson astounds me every week at the moment, he’s playing like a seasoned veteran, he’s very good and the more games we can get into them now, the more experienced they’ll be next year.”
The fair weather brought the crowds to the Brickfields, and it wasn’t just the spectators enjoying the warmer weather. With three weeks of rest drying out the Brickfields troublesome pitch, players were able to show off a faster paced game than the faithful had become accustomed to throughout the damp winter.
The snow of late March was a distant memory as muddy mauls were overlooked for the pace of the wings to find metres. Albion continued their aggressive seasonal stance, deciding to kick for touch over near guaranteed points within the first couple of minutes.
The resulting lineout came close to converting for the men in white, as skipper Herbie Stupple tumbled over, only to have the ball held up. Another penalty set a second lineout which found instant success. The ball was quickly tucked into the rear of a maul, with Rupert Freestone finishing easily in the corner. Two were added by Matthew Shepherd to pull the hosts ahead 7-0 after four minutes.
Back at the other end, it was Albion’s turn to surrender a penalty out front. Birmingham elected to kick and secure points against their top five hosts, and converted courtesy of Oliver Allsopp.
Now back within three points of Albion, Birmingham continued to seem nervous early on, whereas Albion seemed to have a good chemistry going between the younger stand ins and veterans.
From the 20-minute mark the pace of the game stepped up another gear, and tries were naturally quick to follow.
After losing the ball in the breakdown short of the line twice, youngster Devon Jewsbury was able to scoop up a loose ball near halfway and run in to score his first points at Brickfields.
Albion’s crowd were soon silenced though, as Birmingham came back strong and, in a flash, had scored two identical converted tries of their own, with Laurence Cowen and Sam Pointon outrunning a static Albion line to bring the visitors ahead 14-17 by halftime.
Scrappy play through the breakdown hampered both sides efforts through the early stages of the second half, but it was Birmingham who seemed the most dominant. Time and time again, they bewildered Albion defenders with quick pop passing, but their quickness was also their downfall, with knock-ons holding the score in check.
Albion were left to run the ball out from the shadow of their posts only to find themselves back at the same point minutes later.
Tired bodies meant injuries quickly racked up for both sides, most notably Albion’s second try scorer Jewsbury, who pulled up quickly after chasing a ball down the pitch.
Eventually, Birmingham found their way in for their last try when Sam Smith dodged his tackler to score.
Five minutes later, Albion pulled back into the game though, with Sam Daly adding a try of his own, beating out Birmingham with quick hands.
The tension around the park amplified further, as Albion poured on one last effort to charge up the field and win. Twice, penalties were awarded the hosts’ way, twice the ball was put into touch and twice the ball was lost through bad rucking.
A deliberate knock on saw Birmingham lose Rob Lewis, but Albion couldn’t seem to take the advantage.
All seemed lost for the hosts until they were awarded a free kick on the last whistle of the game. Phase after phase was repelled at Birmingham’s line but Cam Setter finally beat the deadlock to get the ball out to a waiting Shepherd who squeezed his way into the corner, converting his own try to seal the win.
Shepherd now believes Albion must keep the momentum going to end a trying season. He said:
“We’ve got three more games at home, so we need to use this pitch to our advantage and get to finish as high as we can in the league and go on to next season with a bang.”
15 Matthew Shepherd, 14 Devon Jewsbury, 13 Luke Flack, 12 Dean Squire, 11 Harrison Cully, 10 Harvey Skinner, 9 Cameron Setter, 1 William Norton, 2 Rupert Freestone, 3 Daniel Pullinger, 4 Lewis Pearson, 5 Sean Lonsdale, 6 George Mills, 7 Sam Daly, 8 Herbie Stupple (C)
17 Luke Chapman, 18 Benjamin Phillips, 26 Flynn Elworthy, 20 Robbie Weeks, 22 Matthew Crosscombe
15 Michael Penn, 14 Samuel Pointon, 13 Samuel Smith, 12 Timothy Molenaar, 11 Alistar Haining, 10 Oliver Allsopp, 9 Saqmeul Brown, 1 Thomas Fidler, 2 Ryan Roach, 3 Jay Tyack, 4 Ciaran Moore, 5 Aaron Crofts, 6 Jacques Le Roux, 7 Laurence Cowen, 8 Christopher Brightwell
16 Adam Caves, 17 Joseph Wrafter, 21 Joshua Poole, 24 Robert Lewis, 20 Samuel Hollingsworth
Albion: 4 (Freestone, Jewsbury, Daly, Shepherd)
Birmingham: 3 (Pointon, Cowen, Smith)
Birmingham: 1 (Allsopp)
Albion: 4 (Shepherd)
Birmingham: 3 (Allsopp, Hollingsworth 2)
Birmingham: Robert Lewis 79 mins.
Man of the Match: Herbie Stupple
Referee: Robert Bourke