Ashfield Rugby Club further extended their unbeaten run to nine games after a thrilling 17-12 victory over top of the table and undefeated Amber Valley at Larwood Park.
The game saw home advantage turn the tables on a humbling 46-7 defeat inflicted on Ashfield by Valley earlier in the season.
A winning team has the attitude and desire to close out games, and these qualities were evident in abundance.
Ashfield came under pressure from the first whistle that tested their resolve.
But some excellent tackling, particularly from full back Tom Childs, stemmed the initial surges from Valley.
From their slow start Ashfield momentum began to grow from the whole team but especially from the line-out, with the second row pairing of Mark Denman and James Kirk taking the ball time and time again.
The line-out has proven a perfect offence weapon for Ashfield this season and this was no different. Gareth Jones’ aim was true, finding Mark Denman. The ball was then worked to scrum half Matt Upton.
Upton gave a delightful pass to Billy North and, with time that good players seem to find from nowhere, his sublime chip over the onrushing defence allowed Jake Manning to charge through. Securing the ball, Manning scored under the posts, and the conversion by Gareth Purnell made the score 7-0.
Ashfield then drifted out of the game for a good 15 to 20 minutes with Valley’s large and powerful forwards exerting pressure once more on the home defence. This was not unexpected, and with two quick tries, one being converted, Valley took a deserved lead 12-7 lead.
With half-time fast approaching Gareth Purnell had the opportunity to reduce the deficit with a penalty, but the windy conditions pushed his kick wide of the upright.
The first half fightback underlined why Valley are league leaders and would battle to retain their 100 per cent league record, Ashfield having to regroup and push on again in the second half.
A couple of replacement and some words of wisdom inspired Ashfield and, confident of a result, they started the second half surging forward.
Now playing a more expansive game, the backs were in full flow that lead to another Ashfield try.
From a solid scrum, a well-executed back row move involving No.8 Gareth Jones and again the influential Matt Upton gave wing replacement Brent Leivers a chance to plough down the line, leaving defenders scattered in his path.
He was brought down just short, but Ashfield were now on top in terms of territory and possession.
On 60 minutes Ashfield struck again as sustained pressure from forwards and backs allowed captain Jones to crash over from short range.
With the score now level, the pressure on Billy North to convert was huge, but credit to him his nerve held and the additional two points put Ashfield 14-12 in the lead.
With their unbeaten record now in serious jeopardy, Valley threw everything at the home team and came very close to retaking the lead 10 minutes from time.
However, they missed a penalty kick by the narrowest of margins and it would be the home side who would hold their nerve in the closing stages of the game.
Ashfield had restricted Valley to playing in their own half and when the tireless Ashfield pack turned over possession, the ball was presented to fly half North, who slotted a majestic drop goal from 35m to seal the home side’s victory.
l Playing under the flight path of East Midlands Airport could have provided a distraction for a young Ashfield Development Squad further tested by a very strong and powerful East Leake 1st XV.
But in the end a late penalty kick by skipper Chris Allen secured a narrow 8-7 win.
The first half ebbed and flowed, making for an entertaining game for the small but enthusiastic crowd that had gathered for the first match of 2014 until a piece of sheer magic by Danny Wilson left the home crowd silent.
A long kick out of defence by East Leake’s fly half was gathered by Wilson around the halfway line. Undeterred by the onrushing attackers he weaved his way around four or five players before drawing the last defender and calmly passing the ball to full back Alan Payne. Unopposed, Payne took the ball over the line to score a great try.
Unfortunately the conversion was missed by Chris Allen to leave Ashfield 5-0 up at half-time. The second half saw Ashfield apply the pressure - and this was typified by scrum half Tyler Morgan, charging down a clearing kick on the East Leake 5m line.
Ashfield should have took encouragement from this and, to a degree they did, but slowly,
East Leake played themselves back into the game and scored and converted a try to take a 7-5 lead. With time running out, Ashfield couldn’t seem to find the continuity that would provide a platform to take the points until their last drive of the game when penalty was awarded to Ashfield for not releasing.
Up stepped Allen and he put the disappointment of missing an earlier conversion behind him to secure victory with a difficult kick.